The Treaty of Versailles severely limited the size and nature of the German army. The intention was to make sure that Germany was never able to again attack its neighbors. In this, the treaty failed miserably. The main reason was Germany quickly found a way to circumvent the restrictions. The irony of how they did this is that Germany and Russia both gained and lost terribly by cooperating. Not to mention the tragedy their actions later thrust on the rest of the world.

Within a few years of being forced to sign the Versailles Treaty, the German army chafed unbearably under its restrictions. Soon, they began to find a way around virtually every clause. The real breakthrough for the Wehrmacht was the Treaty of Rapallo signed in 1922 between Russia and Germany. The inspiration for the treaty was that both nations were being treated like pariahs by the rest of Europe. The Germans were maligned due to World War I, and Russia was hated for being communist. This new treaty called on both Russia and Germany to “co-operate in a spirit of mutual goodwill in meeting the economic needs of both countries.” While the treaty was publicly signed on April 16, 1922, the important part was the secret annex to that treaty signed the following July 29.

One of the Versailles restrictions was that the Wehrmacht could not have any tanks. The secret agreements in the Treaty of Rapallo provided a way for the German army to have and train with tanks. The German army could not make or use tanks in Germany without being caught by France or England, and the Soviets wanted to learn tank building and tank warfare. Thus the Germans were given the use of a tank school and test ground in Russia near the city of Kazan in trade for knowledge. Starting in 1926, the German army trained hundreds of men in tank warfare and refined their combat techniques with live war games. It could be said that the Blitzkrieg was birthed not in Germany but on those dusty Russian fields. Of course, the Russians benefited as well. German engineers helped them modernize their tank production, and the Kazan school became a vital part of their World War II armored training. Both sides even tested new tank designs and weapons there.

The German army was also forbidden to have or train in most types of aircraft. By 1923, the German army was training Soviet officers and pilots in exchange for the use of aircraft and the opportunity to train its own pilots as well. German engineers were assisting in many areas in the industrialization of Russia. Hundreds of German pilots flew and practiced in forbidden aircraft in the late 1920s and early 1930s at joint air schools near Lipetsk, Russia. Both sides also even developed poison gasses near the Volga River town of Saratov.

By 1930, because of German assistance and guidance, the first Soviet mechanized brigade was formed. In 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor and announced that Germany would no longer accept the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. Cooperation slowed, then ended. Eight years later, the armored columns of the Wehrmacht tore into Russia at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. Four years later, hundreds of victorious Soviet tanks swarmed Berlin. Allowing the Germans to train in their country was certainly a disastrous mistake for the Russians as viewed in 1941. Russia took an estimated 20 million casualties, civilian and military, before the German invasion, spearheaded by armored officers who first learned their trade near Kazan. Teaching the Russians tank warfare and how to manufacture better tanks was perhaps an even greater mistake. By 1944, the German army was being overwhelmed by thousands of T34 and KV Russian tanks. Each side made a great mistake in assisting the other. Who paid the higher price is open to debate.

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