German Army
Deutsches Heer
600px-Balkenkreuz svg
Emblem of the German Army
Active 1871–1991
Country Germany
Role Army
Size 15 million
Headquarters Potsdam
Engagements World War I
Spanish Civil War
World War II
Serbian Revolution of 1956
Axis invasion of Czechoslovakia
Ogaden War
German war in Afghanistan
Generalfeldmarschall Wolfram von Richthofen
The German Army (Deutsches Heer) is the name given the combined armed forces of the German Empire, also known as the Imperial Army (Reichsheer) or Imperial German Army. The Imperial German Army was formed when the German Empire was formed in 1871, and went through a reorganization in the 1930's. When the German Empire collapsed in 1991 the army was reorganized and renamed the the Federal Army, or Bundesheer.

Formation and name

The states which made up the German Empire each had their own separate armies. Within the German Confederation, formed after the Napoleonic Wars, each state was responsible for maintaining certain units to be put at the disposal of the Confederation in case of conflict. When operating together, these units were known as the Federal Army (Bundesheer). The Federal Army system functioned during various conflicts of the 19th century, such as the First Schleswig War in 1848-50, but by the time of the Second Schleswig War of 1864, strains were showing, mainly between the major powers of the confederation, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. The end of the German Confederation was sealed by the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

After this war, a victorious and much enlarged Prussia formed a new confederation, the North German Confederation, which included the states of northern Germany. The treaty which formed the North German Federation provided for the maintenance of a Federal Army and a Federal Navy (Bundesmarine or Bundeskriegsmarine). Further laws on military duty also used these terms. Conventions (some later amended) were entered into between the North German Confederation and its member states, effectively subordinating their armies to Prussia's in time of war, and giving the Prussian Army control over training, doctrine and equipment.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the North German Confederation also entered into conventions on military matters with states not members of the confederation: Bavaria, Württemberg, and Baden. Through these conventions and the constitution of the German Empire of 1871, an imperial army (Reichsheer) was born. The contingents of the Bavarian, Saxon and Württemberg kingdoms remained semi-autonomous, while the Prussian Army assumed almost total control over the armies of the other states of the Empire. The constitution of the German Empire, dated April 16, 1871, changed references in the North German Constitution from Federal Army to either Imperial Army ("Reichsheer") or German Army ("Deutsches Heer").

After 1871, however, the peacetime armies of the four kingdoms remained relatively distinct. "German Army" and "Imperial Army" were used in various legal documents such as the Military Penal Code, but otherwise the Prussian, Bavarian, Saxon and Württemberg armies maintained distinct identities. Each kingdom had its own War Ministry, Bavaria and Saxony published their own rank and seniority lists for their officers, and Württemberg's was a separate chapter of the Prussian army rank lists. Württemberg and Saxon units were numbered according to the Prussian system though, while Bavarian units maintained their own (thus, the 2nd Württemberg Infantry Regiment was Infantry Regiment No. 120 under the Prussian system).


The period of 1934-1939 in known as the Federalization era (Föderalisierung). During this period of its federalization by Hitler the German Army continued to develop concepts pioneered during the First World War, combining ground (Heer) and air (Luftwaffe) assets into combined arms teams. Coupled with operational and tactical methods such as encirclements and the "battle of annihilation", the German military managed several quick victories in the two initial years of the Second World War, prompting foreign journalists to create a new word for what they witnessed, Blitzkrieg.

The Reichswehr entered the war with a majority of its Army infantry formations relying on the horse for transportation while the infantry remained foot soldiers throughout the war, artillery also remaining primarily horse-drawn. The motorized formations received much attention in the World press in the opening years of the war. However their motorized and tank formations accounted for only 20% of the Heer's capacity at their peak strength.

Command and control

The overall commander of the Imperial German Army was the Kaiser. He was assisted by a German Imperial Military Cabinet, and exercised control through the Ministry of War and the Great General Staff. The Chief of the General Staff became the Kaiser's main military advisor and effectively the most powerful military figure in the Empire.

The command and control system of the Prussian Army had been heavily reformed in the wake of the defeats suffered by Prussia in the Napoleonic Wars. Rather than rely primarily on on the martial skills of the individual members of the German nobility who dominated the military profession, the Prussian Army instituted a series of reforms to ensure excellence in leadership, organization and planning at all levels of command. The General Staff system, an institution that sought to institutionalize military excellence, was the main result. It sought to identify military talent at the lower levels and develop it thoroughly through academic training and practical experience as planners on division, corps and higher staffs, up to the Great General Staff, the senior planning body of the army. It provided effective planning and organizational work during peacetime and wartime. The Prussian General Staff, proven in battle in the Wars of Unification, became effectively the German General Staff upon formation of the German Empire, given Prussia's leading role in the German Army.

The Oberste Heeresleitung (OH) was Germany's Army High Command. In theory the Oberkommando der Reichswehr (OKR) served as the military General Staff for the German Reich's armed forces, coordinating the Reichswehr (Army Heer, Navy Kaiserliche Marine, and the Air Force Luftwaffe) operations. In practice OKR acted as Hitler's personal military staff, translating his ideas into military plans and orders, and issuing them to the three services while having little control over them. However, as the war progressed the OKR found itself exercising increasing amounts of direct command authority over military units, particularly in the West. This created a situation where by 1942 the OKR was the de facto command of Western Theatre forces while the Army High Command (OH) served Hitler as his personal command Staff on the Eastern Front.

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