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(from German Reich, “state,” “empire,” and Wehr, “weaponry,” “defense”), the armed forces of Germany from 1919 to 1935, formed in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles of 1919.
On Mar. 6, 1919, a provisional Reichswehr was created, composed of 24 brigades. On Mar. 23, 1921, a law regarding the Reichswehr was passed, by which personnel were to be recruited through mercenary enlistment, with a term of service of 25 years for officers and 12 years for noncommissioned officers and privates. The Reichswehr consisted of ground troops and a navy. By the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was prohibited from having an air force; tanks; antiaircraft, heavy, and antitank artillery; submarines; and battleships with a water displacement of more than 10,000 tons and cruisers of more than 6,000 tons, as well as a general staff in any form. The size of the ground troops was limited to 100,000 men, including 4,500 officers (seven infantry and three cavalry divisions, 288 guns, and 252 mortars). The navy had six old battleships, seven light cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 12 torpedo boats. The navy and coastal defense totaled 15,000 men, including 1,500 officers. However, there existed a secret reserve called the Black Reichswehr, which included self-defense detachments (Heimwehr), regional soldiers’ associations, and veterans’ leagues, such as the Steel Helmet, Vikings, Scharnhorst, and Young Germany, totaling up to 4 million men.
From 1926 secret preparations were undertaken for increasing the Reichswehr, and from 1930 to 1932 a plan was adopted to raise the number to 300,000 men by 1938. This plan was realized by the fall of 1934, after fascism had come to power and Germany had left the League of Nations (1933). On Mar. 16, 1935, Germany annulled the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, introduced universal military service, and began building up the Reichswehr into the Wehrmacht with many millions of soldiers.