Military history


Hitler had conquered Germany with the greatest of ease, but a number of problems remained to be faced as summer came in 1933. There were at least five major ones: preventing a second revolution; settling the uneasy relations between the S.A. and the Army; getting the country out of its economic morass and finding jobs for the six million unemployed; achieving equality of armaments for Germany at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva and accelerating the Reich’s secret rearming, which had begun during the last years of the Republic; and deciding who should succeed the ailing Hindenburg when he died.

It was Roehm, chief of the S.A., who coined the phrase “the second revolution,” and who insisted that it be carried through. He was joined by Goebbels, who in his diary of April 18, 1933, wrote: “Everyone among the people is talking of a second revolution which must come. That means that the first revolution is not at an end. Now we shall settle with the Reaktion. The revolution must nowhere come to a halt.”19

The Nazis had destroyed the Left, but the Right remained: big business and finance, the aristocracy, the Junker landlords and the Prussian generals, who kept tight rein over the Army. Roehm, Goebbels and the other “radicals” in the movement wanted to liquidate them too. Roehm, whose storm troopers now numbered some two million—twenty times as many as the troops in the Army—sounded the warning in June:

One victory on the road of German revolution has been won … The S.A. and S.S., who bear the great responsibility of having set the German revolution rolling, will not allow it to be betrayed at the halfway mark … If the Philistines believe that the national revolution has lasted too long … it is indeed high time that the national revolution should end and become a National Socialist one … We shall continue our fight—with them or without them. And, if necessary, against them … We are the incorruptible guarantors of the fulfillment of the German revolution.20

And in August he added, in a speech, “There are still men in official positions today who have not the least idea of the spirit of the revolution. We shall ruthlessly get rid of them if they dare to put their reactionary ideas into practice.”

But Hitler had contrary thoughts. For him the Nazi socialist slogans had been merely propaganda, means of winning over the masses on his way to power. Now that he had the power he was uninterested in them. He needed time to consolidate his position and that of the country. For the moment at least the Right—business, the Army, the President—must be appeased. He did not intend to bankrupt Germany and thus risk the very existence of his regime. There must be no second revolution.

This he made plain to the S.A. and S.S. leaders themselves in a speech to them on July 1. What was needed now in Germany, he said, was order. “I will suppress every attempt to disturb the existing order as ruthlessly as I will deal with the so-called second revolution, which would lead only to chaos.” He repeated the warning to the Nazi state governors gathered in the Chancellery on July 6:

The revolution is not a permanent state of affairs, and it must not be allowed to develop into such a state. The stream of revolution released must be guided into the safe channel of evolution … We must therefore not dismiss a businessman if he is a good businessman, even if he is not yet a National Socialist, and especially not if the National Socialist who is to take his place knows nothing about business. In business, ability must be the only standard …

History will not judge us according to whether we have removed and imprisoned the largest number of economists, but according to whether we have succeeded in providing work … The ideas of the program do not oblige us to act like fools and upset everything, but to realize our trains of thought wisely and carefully. In the long run our political power will be all the more secure, the more we succeed in underpinning it economically. The state governors must therefore see to it that no party organizations assume the functions of government, dismiss individuals and make appointments to offices, to do which the Reich government—and in regard to business, the Reich Minister of Economics—is competent.21

   No more authoritative statement was ever made that the Nazi revolution was political, not economic. To back up his words, Hitler dismissed a number of Nazi “radicals” who had tried to seize control of the employers’ associations. He restored Krupp von Bohlen and Fritz Thyssen to their positions of leadership in them, dissolved the Combat League of Middle-Class Tradespeople, which had annoyed the big department stores, and in place of Hugenberg named Dr. Karl Schmitt as Minister of Economics. Schmitt was the most orthodox of businessmen, director general of Allianz, Germany’s largest insurance company, and he lost no time in putting an end to the schemes of the National Socialists who had been naïve enough to take their party program seriously.

The disillusion among the rank-and-file Nazis, especially among the S.A. storm troopers, who formed the large core of Hitler’s mass movement, was great. Most of them had belonged to the ragged army of the dispossessed and the unsatisfied. They were anticapitalist through experience and they believed that the revolution which they had fought by brawling in the streets would bring them loot and good jobs, either in business or in the government. Now their hopes, after the heady excesses of the spring, were dashed. The old gang, whether they were party members or not, were to keep the jobs and to keep control of jobs. But this development was not the only reason for unrest in the S.A.

The old quarrel between Hitler and Roehm about the position and purpose of the S.A. cropped up again. From the earliest days of the Nazi movement Hitler had insisted that the storm troopers were to be a political and not a military force; they were to furnish the physical violence, the terror, by which the party could bludgeon its way to political power. To Roehm, the S.A. had been not only the backbone of the Nazi revolution but the nucleus of the future revolutionary army which would be for Hitler what the French conscript armies were to Napoleon after the French Revolution. It was time to sweep away the reactionary Prussian generals—those “old clods,” as he contemptuously called them—and form a revolutionary fighting force, a people’s army, led by himself and his tough aides who had conquered the streets of Germany.

Nothing could be further from Hitler’s thoughts. He realized more clearly than Roehm or any other Nazi that he could not have come to power without the support or at least the toleration of the Army generals and that, for the time being at least, his very survival at the helm depended in part on their continued backing, since they still retained the physical power to remove him if they were so minded. Also Hitler foresaw that the Army’s loyalty to him personally would be needed at that crucial moment, which could not be far off, when the eighty-six-year-old Hindenburg, the Commander in Chief, would pass on. Furthermore, the Nazi leader was certain that only the officer corps, with all its martial traditions and abilities, could achieve his goal of building up in a short space of time a strong, disciplined armed force. The S.A. was but a mob—good enough for street fighting but of little worth as a modern army. Moreover, its purpose had now been served and from now on it must be eased tactfully out of the picture. The views of Hitler and Roehm were irreconcilable, and from the summer of 1933 to June 30 of the following year a struggle literally to the death was to be fought between these two veterans of the Nazi movement who were also close friends (Ernst Roehm was the only man whom Hitler addressed by the familiar personal pronoun du).

Roehm expressed the deep sense of frustration in the ranks of the storm troopers in a speech to fifteen thousand S.A. officers in the Sportpalast in Berlin on November 5, 1933. “One often hears … that the S.A. had lost any reason for existence,” he said, warning that it had not. But Hitler was adamant. “The relation of the S.A. to the Army,” he had warned at Bad Godesberg on August 19, “must be the same as that of the political leadership.” And on September 23 at Nuremberg he spoke out even more clearly:

On this day we should particularly remember the part played by our Army, for we all know well that if, in the days of our revolution, the Army had not stood on our side, then we should not be standing here today. We can assure the Army that we shall never forget this, that we see in them the bearers of the tradition of our glorious old Army, and that with all our heart and all our powers we will support the spirit of this Army.

Some time before this, Hitler had secretly given the armed forces assurances which had brought many of the higher officers to his side. On February 2, 1933, three days after assuming office, he had made a two-hour address to the top generals and admirals at the home of General vonHammerstein, the Army Commander in Chief. Admiral Erich Raeder revealed at Nuremberg the tenor of this first meeting of the Nazi Chancellor with the officer corps.22 Hitler, he said, freed the military elite from its fears that the armed services might be called upon to take part in a civil war and promised that the Army and Navy could now devote themselves unhindered to the main task of quickly rearming the new Germany. Admiral Raeder admitted that he was highly pleased at the prospect of a new Navy, and General von Blomberg, whose hasty assumption of the office of Minister of Defense on January 30, 1933, had stamped out any temptation on the part of the Army to revolt against Hitler’s becoming Chancellor, declared later in his unpublished memoirs that the Fuehrer opened up “a field of activities holding great possibilities for the future.”

Further to augment the enthusiasm of the military leaders Hitler created, as early as April 4, the Reich Defense Council to spur a new and secret rearmament program. Three months later, on July 20, the Chancellor promulgated a new Army Law, abolishing the jurisdiction of the civil courts over the military and doing away with the elected representation of the rank and file, thus restoring to the officer corps its ancient military prerogatives. A good many generals and admirals began to see the Nazi revolution in a different and more favorable light.

As a sop to Roehm, Hitler named him—along with Rudolf Hess, the deputy leader of the party—a member of the cabinet on December 1 and on New Year’s Day, 1934, addressed to the S.A. chief a warm and friendly letter. While reiterating that “the Army has to guarantee the protection of the nation against the world beyond our frontiers,” he acknowledged that “the task of the S.A. is to secure the victory of the National Socialist Revolution and the existence of the National Socialist State” and that the success of the S.A. had been “primarily due” to Roehm. The letter concluded:

At the close of the year of the National Socialist Revolution, therefore, I feel compelled to thank you, my dear Ernst Roehm, for the imperishable services which you have rendered to the National Socialist movement and the German people, and to assure you how very grateful I am to fate that I am able to call such men as you my friends and fellow combatants.

In true friendship and grateful regard,
Your ADOLF HITLER23        

The letter, employing the familiar du, was published in the chief Nazi daily paper, the Voelkischer Beobachter, on January 2, 1934, and did much to ease for the moment the feelings of resentment in the S.A. In the atmosphere of good feeling that prevailed over the Christmas and New Year holidays, the rivalry between the S.A. and the Army and the clamor of the radical Nazis for the “second revolution” was temporarily stilled.

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