Seventy years after defeating the Nazis. The history of Germany’s demilitarization
Yuriy RUBTSOV | 17.06.2015 | OPINION

Seventy years after defeating the Nazis. The history of Germany’s demilitarization

There is a direct link between the factual refusal of the US and UK to disarm Germany at the end of WWII - either militarily or economically - as demanded by the Yalta and Potsdam conferences and the West’s current support for the neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine. Then, as now, the Anglo-American elite was ready to cooperate with anyone, as long as it got them closer to reaching the Anglo-Saxons’ primary, longstanding strategic objective, which was to destroy Russia.

As the Wehrmacht forces were being cleared from German soil, the Allies were also faced with the task of reestablishing normal life there - providing ordinary Germans with food and medicine, rebuilding infrastructure, purging local government bodies of Nazi supporters, and so on. In accordance with the Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany, the Allies accepted supreme authority over the country and were confronted with the full-blown crisis of how to govern her.

Although each of the Allied nations had its own zone of occupation, they were supposed to coordinate their actions, which in essence meant complying with the decisions made at the conference in Yalta, and later in Potsdam, to eradicate German militarism and Nazism and ensure that «Germany will never again be able to disturb the peace of the world». To this end, the Allies decided «to disarm and disband all German armed forces; break up for all time the German General Staff» and to «remove or destroy all German military equipment; eliminate or control all German industry that could be used for military production ... wipe out the Nazi Party, Nazi laws, organizations and institutions, [and] remove all Nazi and militarist influences from public office and from the cultural and economic life of the German people». However, as time passed, the Western Allies one by one withdrew from the agreed plan of action, refusing to meet their own commitments.

Thus the work of the Control Council - the highest echelon of the Allied administration - became quite strained. Consisting of the commanders-in-chief of the Allied armies, that council was created to ensure that all their actions were consistent across the zones of occupation in regard to the biggest issues affecting all of Germany, while also overseeing the new German administration. Politically and legally, the Control Council was the Allies’ supreme body of power in Germany, issuing laws and orders that were binding upon the administration of the occupation zones and all individuals residing within the country.

By prior agreement among the Allies, the Control Council, in addition to its constituent system of directorates (military, political, and financial, as well as those overseeing reparations, supplies, prisoners of war, displaced persons, etc.), committees, and subcommittees, operated on the principle of consensus. The need to achieve unanimity among the representatives of all four occupying powers would seem to require their broad cooperation, but that was not how it all worked out. It became apparent that the Soviet Union held a different vision from that of the Western Allies regarding the ways to resolve Germany’s problems and build a new country.

The Soviet Union, in accordance with the decisions made at the conferences of the Big Three (the USSR, US, and UK), was eager to take measures that promised to prevent a revival of militarism and Nazism in the occupied country and which would provide the German people with the opportunity to carry out democratic reforms and establish a peace-loving state. That course was scrupulously followed, not only in the Soviet zone of occupation, but also by the representatives of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (known by its German acronym of SMAD) within the organs of the Allies’ supervisory government.

The policy of the Western Allies followed a different model. Despite the fact that the views within their camp were not entirely unanimous (for example, the United Kingdom was not nearly as concerned as France - and the US even less so - about the danger of German revenge), but none of the three Western governments had any hesitation about charting a course of confrontation with the Soviet Union. They needed vanquished Germany as a partner in this face-off against the Soviet Union.

At the first joint meeting of the commanders-in-chief of the Allied armies on June 5, 1945 in Berlin, Marshal Georgy Zhukov suggested pulling the Allied troops back behind the line of demarcation established at the Yalta Conference, believing that was a prerequisite for the foundation of the activities of the Control Council and the work in the zones of occupation. The Allies finally took that step only after extensive objections and foot-dragging. However, even when withdrawing their troops, they tried to force revisions to the agreements reached at Yalta and Potsdam. This was precisely the idea behind their attempt to retain the German military and paramilitary units in their zones. And this was done with the expectation of using their former enemies against their own ally - the Red Army - during a potential war against the Soviet Union, a plan that Winston Churchill’s government had begun developing even before Berlin surrendered. ( 33509.html).

At the same time the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, having come to the conclusion that the roughly equivalent military might of the Soviet Union and the United States/British Empire meant that the military defeat of either side could not be guaranteed, and so they raised the question of a third force, which would provide the Western powers with sufficient capability «to quickly vanquish the Soviet Union in a war». The German military units that had surrendered to the Anglo-American Allies but not disbanded after the end of hostilities were seen as such a force. A powerful military corps could be created out of them in short order, consisting of troops from Army Group Vistula - the Twenty-First Army and Third Panzer Army, as well as remnants of the Twelfth and Ninth Armies that had passed through the Americans’ front line. According to the commander of Army Group Vistula, General Kurt von Tippelskirch, both the armies subordinate to him, thanks to separate negotiations with the Americans, «were saved from unconditional surrender on the battlefield, which would inevitably have sent them into Russian captivity».

From secret agents and other intelligence sources, the commanders of the Soviet occupation forces were made aware of the presence of the still-intact German units inside the British and American zones. On July 10, 1945, Marshal Zhukov pointed out to the Anglo-American military command this gross violation of the Potsdam Agreements on the dissolution of the Wehrmacht. However, three months later the situation was little changed. The chief of the Soviet occupation forces and head of the SMAD was forced to present a memorandum to the Western representatives in the Control Council, citing irrefutable facts proving that the province of Schleswig-Holstein (in the British occupation zone) contained an entire group of German troops, which included Army Group North as well as aircraft, tanks, and special units of the Wehrmacht and forces from the German Navy. About one million German soldiers and officers could also be found there who had not been taken into custody as prisoners of war.

When members of the Control Council discussed Marshal Zhukov’s memorandum on Nov. 30 1945, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, faced with the facts, was forced to acknowledge the presence of organized units and formations of the Wehrmacht in the British zone of occupation. However, the Allies were in no hurry to implement either the decisions of the Potsdam Conference or a special law adopted by the Control Council on August 20, 1946 to dissolve the German Wehrmacht.

And they were even less willing to comply with decisions related to the military and economic disarmament of Germany. As a reminder, that decision at the Yalta conference stated: «We are determined to ... remove or destroy all German military equipment [and] eliminate or control all German industry that could be used for military production». The Potsdam Conference confirmed and clarified this program to militarily and economically disarm Germany, which prohibited the production of any type of weaponry and stipulated that all industrial production be limited to the minimum required to meet Germans’ post-war civilian needs, as approved by the Allies. All other manufacturing capacity was subject to seizure for reparations or destroyed.

According to the Control Council, Germany’s military and economic potential at that time consisted of 1,251 military plants, including 141 in the American zone, 348 in the British, 73 in the French, and 689 in the Soviet. The Soviets provided comprehensive data on the number of military industrial plants in their zone and the nature of the manufacturing carried out at them. The Allies undercounted when providing data from their zones of occupation, «losing» at least 454 military factories in their calculations. In addition, they deliberately left out more than 200 plants from the list they submitted of facilities subject to seizure for reparations.

When presented with the irrefutable facts by the Soviet representatives, the Allies were forced to partially admit to «errors» in their calculations and to announce that they were now reclassifying a number of plants as eligible to be seized for reparations or converted to civilian production.

As in the case of the drawn-out disarmament of the captured German troops, the Allies’ efforts to sabotage decisions about Germany’s military and economic disarmament was not something they did spontaneously - it was preceded by a lot of work. In the spring of 1947 a report addressed to President Harry Truman was published in the US, prepared by one of his predecessors, Herbert Hoover, who had been charged by the US government with inspecting the Western occupation zones. The report suggested ending the dismantling of military plants in the Western zones, introducing a separate currency reform there, and returning the captains of Germany’s wartime industry to their positions managing the economy. In terms of political reforms, it recommended that a German government be set up in the Western zones and a separate peace treaty signed with it.

Such steps signaled both a direct break with Potsdam and also the decision of the US, UK, and France not to preserve a single German state. The result was the rapid establishment of two independent states on German soil: the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.

Tags: Germany  UK  US  USSR