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Military history of Germany

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

While German-speaking peoples have a long history, Germany as a nation-state dates only from 1871.
Earlier periods are subject to definition debates. The Franks, for instance, were a union of Germanic
tribes, nevetheless some of the Franks later identified themselves as Dutch, Flemish, French and again
others as Germans.The capital of medieval ruler Charlemagne's empire was the city of Aachen, now part
of Germany, yet he was a Frank. France was named after the Franks and the Dutch and Flemish people
are the only ones to speak a language that decends from Old Frankish (The language of the Franks).
Hence nearly all continental Western European historians can claim his victories as their heritage. The
Holy Roman Empire he founded was largely but far from entirely German speaking. Prussia, which
unified Germany in the nineteenth century, had significant territory in what is now Poland. In the early
nineteenth century the philosopher Schlegel referred to Germany as a Kulturnation, a nation of shared
culture and political disunity, analogous to ancient Greece.

During the ancient and early medieval periods the Germanic tribes had no written language. What we
know about their early military history comes from accounts written in Latin and from archaeology. This
leaves important gaps. Germanic wars against the Romans are fairly well documented from the Roman
perspective. Germanic wars against the early Celts remain mysterious because neither side recorded the

Ancient times
Germanic tribes are thought to have originated during the Nordic Bronze Age in northern Germany and
southern Scandinavia. The tribes spread south, possibly motivated by the deteriorating climate of that
area. They crossed the River Elbe, probably overrunning the territories of the Celtic Volcae in the Weser
Basin. The Romans recorded one of these early migrations when the Cimbri and the Teutones tribes
threatened the Republic itself around the late 2nd century BC. In the East, other tribes, such as Goths,
Rugians and Vandals, settled along the shores of the Baltic Sea pushing southward and eventually
settling as far away as Ukraine. The Angles and Saxons migrated to England. The Germanic peoples
often had a fraught relationship with their neighbours, leading to a period of over two millennia of
military conflict over various territorial, religious, ideological and economic concerns.

 Germanic tribes often fought both against and for the Roman Empire.
 In 9 AD a Roman army led by Publius Quinctilius Varus was defeated by the
Cheruscan leader Arminius (Hermann) in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.
 Around 260, the various Germanic tribes finally broke through the Limes and the
Danube frontier.
 The Goths, after settling in the region west of the Black Sea in the third century
AD, split into two groups, the Ostrogoths (East Goths) and the Visigoths (West
 In 364, the Visigoths ravaged much of Thrace, mostly present day Bulgaria.
 In 378, the Visigoths, led by Alatheus and Fritigern, massacred a Roman army,
led by Emperor Valens, at the Battle of Adrianople.
 In the late 4th and early 5th Centuries, West Germanic peoples led initially by
Hengist and Horsa, but later joined by leaders including Aelle of Sussex and the
kings of Deria and Bernicia, leading tribes of Jutes, Saxons and Angles, began to
occupy and settle the lowlands of the South and East of Britain.
 On Christmas Day 406, with the freezing of the Rhine, Franks, Allemanni,
Burgundians, Suebi and Vandals crossed the Rhine from, what is now, Germany
into Gaul. The Franks later expelled the Goths from Aquitaine and absorbed the
Burgundians. They were later to give their name to modern France. The Suebi, in
alliance with the Alans, an Indo-Iranian people from the Hungarian steppes,
settled in Portugal, under the hegemony of the later Visigothic kings.
 In 415, Visigoths led by Alaric I were the first people since the creation of the
empire to sack Rome.
 In 451, the two divisions of Goths were on opposite sides at the Battle of Chalons.
The battle was caused by Attila the Hun's sacking and pillaging of much of the
Roman Empire. The Visigoths, led by King Theodoric I, were on the Roman side,
whereas the Ostrogoths were on Attila's side. The battle took an entire day, and
Theodoric was killed during the battle. His son, Thorismund, took over the battle
in his place and helped win the battle against Attila.
 In 455, under the leadership of their King Gaiseric, the Vandals seized Rome,
plundering it for 15 days (and henceforth giving their name to wanton
 From 772 to 814, the Frankish King Charlemagne held the Carolingian Empire,
an empire which included most of continental Western Europe within its territory.

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (843-1806)

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (also referred as the First German Empire) emerged
from the eastern part of the Carolingian Empire after its division in the Treaty of Verdun of 843, and
lasted almost a millennium until its dissolution in 1806. It was never a unitary state; from the beginning
it was made up of many ethnicities and languages and would at its height comprise territories ranging
from eastern France to northern Italy. Its unifying characteristic was its Carolingian heritage and strong
religious connotations, its claim to "German-ness" the ethnicity of most of its subjects and rulers.

From 919 to 936 the Germanic peoples (Franks, Saxons, Swaben and Bavarians) were united under
Henry the Fowler, then Duke of Saxony, who took the title of King. For the first time, the term Kingdom
of the Germans ("Regnum Teutonicorum") was applied to the Frankish kingdom.

In 955 the Magyars were decisively defeated at Lechfeld by his son Otto the Great, ending the threat
from the Eurasian steppes for four centuries. In 962, partly on the strength of this victory, Otto went to
Rome and was crowned the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by the pope.

By 1155, the German states had descended into disorder. Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) managed to
restore peace through diplomacy and skillfully arranged marriages. He claimed direct imperial control
over Italy and made several incursions into northern Italy, but was ultimately defeated by the Lombard
League at Legano in 1176. In 1189, Frederick embarked on the Third Crusade. After a few initial
successes against the Turks, notably at Konya, Frederick was killed when trying to cross a river.
Leaderless, panicked and attacked on all sides, only a tiny fraction of the original forces survived.

In 1226 Konrad I of Masovia in west-central Poland, appealed to the Teutonic Knights, a German
crusading military order, to defend his borders and subdue the pagan Baltic Prussians. The conquest and
christianisation of Prussia was accomplished after more than 50 years, after which the Order ruled it as a
sovereign Teutonic Order state. Their confilct of intertrests with the Polish-Lithuanian state, over the
control of the land of a third party (the baltic prussian land) lead in 1410 to Battle of Gruenwald. A
Polish-Lithuanian army inflicted a decisive defeat and broke its military power, although the Order
managed to hang on to most of its territories.

The Hussite Wars, fought between 1419 and 1434 in Bohemia, had their origins in a conflict between
Catholics and the followers of a religious sect founded by Johannes Huss. The inciting action of the war
was the First Defenestration of Prague, in which the mayor and the town council members of Prague
were thrown from the windows of the town building. Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor of the period
and a firm adherent of the Church of Rome, obtained the support of Pope Martin V who issued a papal
bull in 1420 proclaiming a crusade. In all, four crusades were launched against the ‘heretics’, all
resulting in defeat for the Catholic troops. The Hussites, capably led by Jan Zizka, employed novel
tactics to defeat their numerically superior enemies, notably at Sudomer, Vyš ehrad, Deutsch Brod and
decisively at Aussig. Whenever a crusade would end, the Hussite armies go on "Beautiful Rides" and
would invade the lands where the crusaders were from. One such place was Saxony. After Jan Zizka's
death in 1424, the Hussite armies were led by Prokop the Great to another victory at the Battle of
Tachov in 1427. The Hussites repeatedly invaded central German lands, though they made no attempt at
permanent occupation, and at one point made it all of the way to the Baltic Sea. The Hussite movement
was ended in 1434, however, at the Battle of Lipan. During the Peasants' War, spanning from 1524 to
1525 in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the peasants were uprising against the nobility.
The rebellion ultimately failed in the end and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V became much harsher.

From 1618 to 1648 the Thirty Years' War ravaged Germany, when it became the main theatre of war in
the conflict between France and the Habsburgs for predominance in Europe. Besides being at war with
Catholic France, Germany was attacked by the Lutheran Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, who won
many victories until he was killed at Lützen. The war resulted in large areas of Germany being laid
waste, causing general impoverishment and a loss of around a third of its population. It ended with the
Peace of Westphalia.

The imperial general Prince Eugene of Savoy faced the Ottoman Turks on the battlefield, first coming to
prominence during the last major Turkish offensive against the Austrian capital of Vienna in 1683. By
the closing years of the 17th century, he was already famous for securing Hungary from the Turks, and
soon rose to the role of principal Austrian commander during the War of the Spanish Succession.

From 1701-1714 the War of the Spanish Succession, Germany fought with the English and the Dutch
against the French. During the early part of the war, the French were successful until Camille de Tallard
was victorious in the Palatinate. Later, in 1706, the Dutch and English helped the Germans take back
their land.

During the reign of Frederick I (1713-1740), the military power of Prussia was significantly improved.
He organized the government around the needs of his army, and produced an efficient, highly-
disciplined instrument of war. The army was expanded to 80,000 men, about 4% of the total population.
Peasants were drafted into the military and trained for duty, but were sent home for ten months out of
each year.
In the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) Empress Maria Theresa of Austria fought successfully
for recognition of her succession to the throne. However, during the subsequent Seven Years' War and
the Silesian Wars, Frederick II of Prussia, Frederick the Great, occupied Silesia and forced Austria to
formally cede control in the Treaty of Hubertusburg of 1763. Prussia had survived the combined force of
its neighbours, each larger than itself, and gained enormously in influence at the cost of the Holy Roman
Empire. It became recognised as a great European power, starting a rivalry with Austria for the
leadership of the German-speaking lands.

During the Seven Years' War, Prussia fought on the side of Britain against Russia, Sweden, Austria,
France, and Saxony. Frederick II of Prussia first invaded Saxony and defeated a Saxon army at Lobositz.
Frederick would then invade Bohemia, the Prussians sieged Prague, but they were defeated at Kolin.
Since Prussia looked weak, the Austrians and French invaded Prussian lands. However, the French
would be defeated at Rossbach and the Austrians at the Leuthen. In 1758, Frederick the Great tried to
invade Austria, but he failed. Now, the Russians tried to defeat the Prussians, but the Prussians earned a
Pyrrhic victory at the Zorndorf. The Swedes, however, fought the Prussians to a draw at Tornow.
However, Austria would gain a victory against the Prussian main army at Hochkirch. In 1759, the
Prussians saw even more defeats. They lost at Kay and at Kunersorf to the Russians. The Prussians
suffered major defeats to the French and Swedish armies, so much that Berlin itself was taken in 1762.
However, the great alliance against Prussia would break up whenever Elizabeth of Russia died. It was
from her death that a pro-Prussian ruler, Peter III would sue for peace. It was only because of this that
the Prussians had survived the war.

The Napoleonic Wars (1805-1815)

The Napoleonic era ended the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and created new German-
speaking states that would eventually form modern Germany. Napoleon reorganized many of the smaller
German-speaking states into the Confederation of the Rhine following the battle of Austerlitz in 1805.
Essentially this enlarged the more powerful states of the region by absorbing the smaller ones, creating a
set of buffer states for France and a source of army conscripts. Neither of the two largest German-
speaking states were part of this confederation: Prussia and Austria remained outside it.

Napolean at the battle of Austerlitz, by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard

King Frederick William III viewed the Confederation of the Rhine as a threat to Prussian interests and
allied against Napoleon. At this time the reputation of the

Prussian army remained high from the period of the Seven year's War. Unfortunately they retained the
tactics of that period and still relied heavily on foreign mercenaries. The lack of military reforms would
prove disastrous. Prussian defeats at Jena and Auerstadt led to a humiliating settlement that reduced the
size of the country by half.

the original Iron Cross military medal from 1813

A demoralised Prussia brought its distinguished old general Gebhard von Blücher out of retirement and
reorganized the army. The reforms of the Prussian military were led by von Scharnhorst and von
Gneisenau, and converted the professional army into one based on national service. They brought in
younger leaders, increased the rate of mobilisation and improved their skirmishing and unit tactics. They
also organized a centralized general staff and a professional officer corps.

Following Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, Prussia and a few other German states saw their chance and
joined the anti-French forces in the Sixth Coalition, which won a decisive victory over France at Leipzig
in 1813 and forced the abdication of Napoleon. Although declared an outlaw by the Congress of Vienna,
Napoleon returned and met a final defeat at the hands of Blücher and Wellington at Waterloo in 1815.

The making of a reunited Germany (1815-1871)

The Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 redrew the political map of Europe. It established 39 separate
German speaking states and organised them in the German Confederation or Deutscher Bund, under the
leadership of Prussia and Austria. Significantly, Prussia gained new territories in the west along the
Rhine river in geographic isolation from the rest of its lands. This Ruhr valley district underwent rapid
industrialisation, inspiring Prussia to establish the Zollverein, a customs union (without Austria) with the
aim of promoting German economic growth.
Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor of Germany in 1871.

The Revolutions of 1848 in the German states were a series of popular uprisings that promoted
liberalisation and German political unification. The Frankfurt Assembly of 1848 offered the crown of
Germany to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. He declined, stating that the assembly did not
represent its respective states. A smaller Prussian-led unification plan was dropped in 1850 after Austria
threatened war. The rest of the decade was a period of political and economic consolidation. In the one
major conflict during that period - the Crimean War - Prussia remained neutral and strengthened its
position with the smaller German states at the expense of Austria.

After a period of constitutional deadlock between crown and parliament in Prussia, a crisis arose in 1863
over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, disputed between Denmark and the German Confederation.
After the Danish annexation of Schleswig, Otto von Bismarck, the new prime Minister of Prussia, made
the smaller states of the German Confederation join Prussia and Austria in the war with Denmark. The
Second War of Schleswig ended with the defeat of the Danes at Dybbøl, and an agreement between
Austria and Prussia to jointly administer Schleswig and Holstein.

Battle of Königgrätz
Bismarck then set about making Prussia the undisputed master of northern Germany, weakening Austria
and the German Confederation. This eventually led to a German Civil War, the Austro-Prussian War,
sealed by the victory of Prussia and its allies at Königgrätz in July 1866, gainst Austria and its allies.
The result was the dissolution of the German Confederation, and the creation of the North German
Confederation one year later.

The Prussian 7th Cuirassiers charge the French guns at the Battle of Mars-La-Tour, August 16,

A dispute over the succession to the Spanish throne resulted in France declaring the Franco-Prussian war
of 1870-1871, expecting support from Prussia's recent enemies. Unlike in the war only a few years ago,
the Germans turned not against each other, with the first emergence of a strong German national
sentiment in the background. Instead, the southern German monarchs of Baden, Württemberg and
Bavaria honoured their secretly negotiated treaties of mutual defence with Berlin, while Austria
remained neutral.

The Germans, led by King Wilhelm I and von Moltke, mobilized a mass conscript army of 1.2 million
men which faced 400,000 experienced regular French soldiers under Napoleon III. While the Germans
were mobilizing the French forces held the upper hand, but the massive size of the German army
allowed the mass-encirclement and destruction of enemy formations at Gravelotte, Metz and Sedan. The
war culminated with the defeat of the French army during the siege of Paris, and was followed by the
proclamation of the German Empire at Versailles in January 1871.

The results of these wars was the emergence of a powerful German nation-state and a major shift in the
balance of power on the European continent.

German Empire (1871-1914)

The creation of the second German Empire heralded the end of Bismarck’s expansionism. From that
point onwards until the end of his career, he skillfully used diplomacy to maintain the status quo in
In 1888 however, Wilhelm II ascended to the German throne. A grandchild of Queen Victoria, he was
an admirer of Britain's empire and naval power and opposed Bismarck's careful foreign policy. To
further his goals, he made Admiral von Tirpitz, an energetic campaigner for a greatly enlarged fleet,
Secretary of State for the German Navy. Through successive "Fleet Acts" he succeeded in giving
Germany by 1914 the second largest naval force in the world.

This expansion program was sufficient to alarm the British, starting a costly naval arms race and leading
indirectly to the emergence of a fragile stand-off between two alliances in Europe: the Triple Entente
(Britain, France and Russia) and the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy).

When in 1914 the growing nationalism in Europe claimed a victim in Archduke Franz Ferdinand of
Austria, the Austrians replied by setting a seemingly impossible ultimatum to Serbia which they held
ultimately responsible. Although the Serbs almost completely relented, their Russian allies refused to
halt their mobilisation. Spurred on by their Austrian allies, Germany declared war on Russia on 1
August 1914, ultimately resulting in an all-out war between the two opposing blocks.

The First World War (1914-1918)

German soldiers on the front in the First World War

The German Schlieffen plan was to deal with the Franco-Russian alliance involved delivering a knock-
out blow to the French and then turning to deal with the more slowly mobilised Russian army. At the
start of the First World War, Germany attacked France through Belgium to avoid French defenses on the
French-German border. They were beat back at the First Battle of the Marne. Years of stalemated trench
warfare followed on the Western Front.
German artillery shown on a 1914 postcard

In the East, however, the war was very different. The Russian initial plans for war had called for
simultaneous invasions of Austrian Galicia and German East Prussia. Although Russia's initial advance
into Galicia was largely successful, they were driven back from East Prussia by the victories of the
German generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes in August and
September 1914. Russia's less-developed economic and military organisation soon proved unequal to the
combined might of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. In the spring of 1915 the Russians were
driven back in Galicia, and in May the Central Powers achieved a remarkable breakthrough on Poland's
southern fringes, capturing Warsaw on 5 August and forcing the Russians to withdraw from all of
Poland, known as the "Great Retreat".

By 1917 the German army had begun employing new infiltration tactics in an effort to break the trench
warfare deadlock. Units of Sturmabteilung, or stormtroopers, were trained and equipped for the new
tactics, and were used with devastating effect along the Russian front at Riga then at the Battle of
Caporetto in Italy. These formations were then deployed to the western front to counter the British tank
attack at the Battle of Cambrai. In March, 1918 the German army Spring Offensive and began an
impressive advance creating a salient in the allied line. The offensive stalled before reaching Paris,

Increasing numbers of American soldiers along the western front now began to make their presence felt.
Although the German military was able to stand off the Allied forces on both fronts, by 1918 victory
appeared unobtainable and a negotiated peace seemed preferable to continuing to an inevitable defeat.
The armistice impoverished Germany, setting the stage for the rise of the National Socialists in the
The first Republic and the Third Reich (1918-1939)

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was one of Germany's best fighter planes during World War 2

The treaty of Versailles imposed severe restrictions on Germany's military strength. The army was
limited to one hundred thousand men with an additional fifteen thousand in the navy. The fleet was to
consist of at most six battleships, six cruisers, and twelve destroyers. Tanks and heavy artillery were
forbidden and the air force was dissolved. A new post-war military (the Reichswehr) was established on
23 March 1921. General conscription was abolished under another mandate of the Versailles treaty. The
treaty also forced Germany, whom was blamed for the war, to pay billions of dollars in war reparations.
The Occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian forces (1923 and 1924 was a result of Germany not
being able to pay. The anger and resentment of this treaty was a cause of Adolf Hitler's rise to power.

The Weimar Republic largely obeyed the Versailles restrictions; the economic problems of reparations,
hyperinflation and the Great Depression also made military spending difficult. However, the German
armed forces retained their strong officer corps.

The Nazi regime began remilitarisation, initially with stealth, in the 1930s. German armed forces were
named the Wehrmacht from 1935 to 1945. The Heer was encouraged to experiment with tanks and
motorised infantry, using the ideas of Heinz Guderian. The Kriegsmarine re-started naval construction
and Hitler established the Luftwaffe, an independent airforce.

In 1936 German troops marched into the demilitarised Rhineland. On 12 March 1938, German troops
marched into Austria. Under the Nazis, Germany annexed the Sudeten border country of
Czechoslovakia (October 1938), and then took over the rest of the Czech lands as a protectorate (March
1939). The Germans were allowed to take Czechoslovakia because the League of Nations did not have
the power to stop them and did not want to start another World War.

The Second World War (1939-1945)

In September 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland after German special forces staged
'border incidents'. The new German tactics combining the use of tanks, motorised infantry, and air
support - known as Blitzkrieg - caused Polish resistance to collapse within weeks. From the beginning of
the war German forces engaged in massive war crimes. This invasion resulted in the United Kingdom,
France and their allies declaring war in short order. However, neither side opened up a western front for
several months in what became known as the phony war.

In April 1940, in Operation Weserübung, German troops invaded and occupied neutral Denmark and
Norway to secure access to Swedish iron ore.

The French plans were largely based on a static defense behind the Maginot Line – a series of
formidable defensive forts along the French-German border. General Erich von Manstein thought on an
idea which led eventually to the approval of a Sichelschnitt ('Sickle Cut') plan to the conquest of France.
On 10 May 1940 the Germans bypassed this obstacle by launching another Blitzkrieg through neutral
Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands, drawing the Allied forces out. The main thrust of the Battle
of France attack however was through the Ardennes which were to that time believed impenetrable to
tanks. In June 1940, with French troops encircled and cut off in the north, France capitulated. The
British Expeditionary Force and other allied units were driven back to the coast at Dunkirk, but managed
to escape with most of their troops when Hitler made a fateful decision not to attack with tanks.

Through the winter of 1940-1941 Germany prepared for an invasion of Britain, but this plan was
shelved when Göring's Luftwaffe failed to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force in the Battle of

To support their weakened Italian allies who had started several invasions, the beginning of 1941 saw
the deployment of German troops in Greece, Yugoslavia and North Africa.

The Balkan operation had caused a delay, and about six weeks later than planned, on 22 June 1941,
Germany reneged on its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and launched Operation Barbarossa.
The German army and its allies made enormous territorial gains in the first months of the war, reaching
the outskirts of Moscow when winter set in. Expecting another Blitzkrieg victory, the Germans had not
properly prepared for warfare in winter and over long distances.

The year 1941 saw the high point for the German army which controlled an area from France to Russia,
and from Norway to Libya. Consequently, it also proved to be the turning point. The harsh Russian
winters and long supply lines worked in Russia's favour and German armies were decisively defeated in
early 1943 at Stalingrad and later in the Battle of Kursk. With German resources being concentrated on
the Russian front, the Allies managed to capture North Africa with victories at El Alamein. Italy was
invaded in July 1943 and promptly capitulated. In June 1944, the Allies landed in France on D-day and
gradually started pushing the Germans back to the Rhine.

In December 1944, the Germans under von Rundstedt launched a final offensive in the Belgian
Ardennes with the aim of re-capturing Antwerp and splitting the Allied lines, but were defeated in the
Battle of the Bulge. Berlin fell to the Soviet troops in May 1945. The German high command and most
German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on 8 May 1945.
The Cold War (1945-1989)

Occupation zones of Germany in 1945.

Among the legacies of the Nazi era were the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1949. These established the
concept of war crimes in international law and created the precedent for trying future war criminals.

Following World War II, the eastern borders of the state of Germany were substantially modified as part
of the surrender settlement. Prussia and other portions of eastern Germany were used to form the highly
modified state of Poland (with Poland losing a good portion of its eastern territory to the USSR.) The
remainder of Germany was split into Soviet (later Russian), American, French and British occupation

In 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany was formed from the French, British and American zones,
while the Soviet zone formed the German Democratic Republic. The western territory of Germany fell
under the protection of the NATO alliance in the west, while the eastern state joined the Warsaw Pact.
Each state possessed its own military force, with eastern Germany formed along the Soviet model and
federal Germany adopting a more 'western' organisation. The allied zones of Berlin became part of the
Federal Republic of Germany despite the city's location deep in the German Democratic Republic. This
condition continued until 1990 when the two states were reunited.

The Bundeswehr was established in 1955 in West Germany. In 1956, conscription for all men between
18 and 45 in years was introduced after heavy discussions about re-militarising Germany. A significant
exception came from the conscientious objector clause in the West German constitution: West Germany
was the first country to grant alternative service to all men who objected to military service on ethical
grounds, regardless of religious affiliation.

Most cold war analysts considered Germany the most likely location for the outbreak of a possible third
world war. Tensions ran high during 1948 when the Soviet Union and German Democratic Republic
closed all roads bringing supplies to West Berlin. The Berlin Airlift sustained the population and
avoided a new war. Construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 commenced shortly after the Bay of Pigs
invasion and preceded the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was the closest the cold war superpowers came to
commencing a nuclear war.

East German troops in 1989

During the Cold War the Bundeswehr had a strength of 495,000 military and 170,000 civilian personnel.
The army consisted of three corps with 12 divisions, most of them armed with tanks and APCs. The air
force owned major numbers of tactical combat aircraft and took part in NATO's integrated air defence
(NATINAD). The navy was tasked to defend the Baltic Approaches and to contain the Soviet Baltic

In East Germany, the National People's Army was founded on 1 March 1956. The NVA was a
professional, volunteer army until 24 January 1962, when conscription was introduced. In 1987 at the
peak of its power, the Nationalen Volksarmee (NVA) of the DDR numbered 175,300 troops.
Approximately 50% of this number were career soldiers, while the remaining half were short-term

Military today

After reunification in 1990, the Bundeswehr absorbed parts of the Nationale Volksarmee of the GDR,
which was being dissolved. In 1999, the NATO war on Yugoslavia in Kosovo was the first offensive
conflict in which the German military actively took part since the Second World War. In 2000 the
European Court of Justice opened up the previously all-male (besides medical divisions and the music
corps) Bundeswehr to women. Since the early 1990s the Bundeswehr has become more and more
engaged in international peacekeeping missions in and around the former Yugoslavia but also in other
parts of the world such as Cambodia, Somalia, Djibouti, Georgia and Sudan.

War on Terrorism

The ‘War on Terrorism’ is a campaign by the United States, supported by several NATO members and
other allies, including Germany, with the stated goal of ending international terrorism. The ‘War on
Terrorism’ (in its current context) is the name given by the George W. Bush administration to the efforts
launched in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. by al-

As part of Operation Enduring Freedom as a response to those attacks, Germany deployed

approximately 2,250 troops including KSK special forces, naval vessels and NBC cleanup teams to
Afghanistan. German forces have contributed to ISAF, the NATO force in Afghanistan, and a Provincial
reconstruction team. German army CH-53 helicopters have deployed to Afghanistan, one crashed in
December 2002 in Kabul, killing seven German soldiers. Eleven other German soldiers have been
killed: four in two different ordnance-defusing accidents, one in a vehicle accident, five in two separate
suicide bombings, and one in landmine explosion.