The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Volume II
Criminality of Groups and Organizations
The General Staff & High Command of the Armed Forces
(Part 2 of 8)

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A. Composition and Functions of The General Staff and High Command Group.

During the first World War there was an organization in the German Armed Forces known as the Great General Staff. This name persists in the public mind, but the Grosse Generalstab no longer exists in fact. There has been no such single organization, no single German General Staff, since 1918. But there has of course been a group of men responsible for the policy and acts of the Armed Forces. The fact that these men have no collective name does not prevent us from collecting them together. Men cannot escape the consequences of their collective acts by combining informally instead of formally. The essence of a general staff or a high command lies not in name but in function. And the men comprised within this group do constitute a functional group, welded together by common responsibility, of those officers who had the principal authority and responsibility under Hitler, for the plans and operations of the German armed forces.

(1) Structure and Organization of the German Armed Forces. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 the German Armed Forces were controlled by a Reich Defense Minister, at that time Field Marshall von Blomberg. Subordinate to von Blomberg were the chiefs of the army staff (at that time von Fritsch), and of the naval staff, the defendant Raeder. Owing to the limitations imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, the German Air Force at that time had no official existence whatsoever.

In May 1935, at the time that military conscription was introduced in Germany, there was a change in the titles of these offices but the structure remained basically the same. Field Marshall von Blomberg remained in supreme command of

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the armed forces with the title of Reich Minister for War and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Von Fritsch became Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and Raeder Commander- in-Chief of the Navy. The army and naval staffs were renamed "High Commands" -- Oberkommando des Heeres and Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine, from which are derived the initials by which they are usually known (OKH and OKM).

The German Air Force came into official and open existence at about this same time, but it was not put under von Blomberg. It was an independent institution under the personal command of Goering, who had the double title of Air Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force.

In February 1938 a rather fundamental reorganization took place, both in terms of personnel and organizational structure. Although Raeder survived the reshuffle, von Blomberg and von Fritsch were both retired from their positions, and Blomberg's ministry, the War Ministry, was wound up. This ministry had contained a division or department called the Wehrmachtamt or "Armed Forces Department," the function of which was to coordinate the plans and operations of the Army and Navy. From this Armed Forces Department was formed a new over-all Armed Forces authority, known as the High Command of the Armed Forces -- Oberkommando der Wehrmacht -- usually known by the initials OKW. As the Air Force as well as the Army and the Navy was subordinated to OKW, coordination of all Armed Forces matters was vested in the OKW, which was in effect Hitler's personal staff for these matters. It combined staff and ministerial functions. Keitel was appointed chief of the OKW. The most important department of OKW was the operations staff, of which Jodl became the chief. Jodl's immediate subordinate was Warlimont, with the title of Deputy Chief of The Armed Forces Operations Staff from 1941. (The genesis of this department is explained in L-79.)

This reorganization and establishment of OKW were embodied in a decree issued by Hitler on 4 February 1938 (1938 RGBl., 5. Part I, page 111):


"Command authority over the entire Armed forces is from now on exercised directly by me personally.

"The Armed Forces Department in the Reich War Ministry with its functions becomes 'The High Command of the Armed Forces' and comes directly under my command as my military staff.

"The head of the Staff of the High Command of the Armed

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Forces is the Chief of the former Armed Forces Department, with the title of Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces. His status is equal to that of Reich Minister.

"The High Command of the Armed Forces also takes over the affairs of the Reich War Ministry. The Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces as my representative exercises the functions hitherto exercised by the Reich War Minister.

"The High Command of the Armed Forces is responsible in peace time for the unified preparation of the defense of the Reich in all areas according to my directives.

"Berlin, 4 February 1938.

"The Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor
"(S) Adolf Hitler
"The Reich Minister and Chief of the Reich Chancellery
"(S) Dr. Lammers
"Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces
"(S) Keitel"

Under OKW were the supreme commands of the three branches of the Armed Forces: OKH, OKM, and the Air Force, which did not receive the official designation of Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) until 1944. Raeder remained after 1938 as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, and von Fritsch was replaced by von Brauchitsch as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Goering continued as Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force. In 1941 von Brauchitsch was replaced as Commander-in-Chief of the Army by Hitler himself, and Raeder was replaced as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy by Doenitz early in 1943. Goering continued as Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force until the last month of the war, when he was replaced by von Greim.

OKW, OKH, OKM and the Air Force each had its own staff. These four staffs did not have uniform designations; in the case of OKH, the staff was known as the Generalstab (General Staff); in the case of OKW, it was known as the Fuehrungstab (Operations Staff); but in all cases the functions were those of a General Staff in military parlance. It will be seen, therefore, that there was in this war no single German General Staff, but rather four, one for each branch of the service plus one for the OKW as the over-all interservice supreme command.

Under OKH, OKL, and OKM were the various fighting formations of the Army, Air Force and Navy respectively. The largest army field formation was known to the Germans, as it is among the nations generally, as an "army group". An Army group was a headquarters controlling two or more "armies." In some cases,

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e.g. in the campaigns in Norway and Greece where only one army was used, "armies" were directly subordinated to OKH, rather than to an "army group." Under the armies come the lower field formations such as corps, divisions, regiments, etc.

In the case of the German Air Force (OKL), the largest formation was known as an "air fleet" (Luftflotte) and the lower units under the air fleet were called "corps" (Fliegerkorps or Jagdkorps) or "divisions" (Fliegerdivisionen or Jagddivisionen).

Under OKM were the various "naval group commands," which controlled all naval operations in a given area, with the exception the operation of the high seas fleet and the submarines, which their nature, were too mobile to be restricted to an area command. The Commanders of the fleet and submarines, and certain other specialized units, were directly subordinate to the German Admiralty.

(2) Composition of. the Group Charged as Criminal. The group charged in the Indictment (Appendix B) as criminal comprises, first, German officers who held the top positions in the four supreme commands described above; and second, the officers who held the top field commands.

The holders of nine of the principal positions in the supreme commands are included in the group. Four of these are positions of supreme authority: the chief of the OKW, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force. Four other positions are those of the Chiefs of Staff to the four Commanders-in-Chief: the Chief of the Operations Staff of OKW, the Chief of the General Staff of the Army, the Chief of the General Staff of the Air Force, and the Chief of the Naval War Staff. The ninth position is that .of Deputy Chief of the Operations Staff of OKW. The particular responsibility of the holder of this office was planning, and for this reason his office has been included in the group.

The group named in the Indictment comprises all individuals who held any of these nine staff positions between February 1938 and the end of the war in May 1945. February 1938 was selected as the opening date because it was in that month that the top organization of the German Armed Forces was reorganized and assumed substantially the form in which it persisted up to the end of the war. Twenty-two different individuals occupied these nine positions during that period, of whom eighteen are still living.

With regard to the officers who held the principal field commands, the Indictment includes as members of the group all Commanders-in-Chief in the field who had the status of Oberbefehls-

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haber in the Army, Navy, or Air Force. The term Oberbefehlshaber defies literal translation into English: literally the components of the word mean "over-command- holder," and it is perhaps best translated as Commander-in- Chief. In the case of the Army, commanders of army groups and armies always had the status and title of Oberbefehlshaber. In the Air Force, the Commander-in-Chief of air fleets always had the status of Oberbefehlshaber, although they were not formally so designated until 1944. In the Navy, officers holding the senior regional commands, and therefore in control of all naval operations (other than of the high seas fleet itself) in a given sector, had the status of Oberbefehlshaber. Roughly 110 individual officers had the status of Oberbefehlshaber in the Army, Navy, or Air Force during the period in question, and all but approximately a dozen of them are still alive.

The entire General Staff and High Command group as defined in the Indictment comprises about 130 officers, of whom 114 are believed still to be living. These figures are the cumulative total of all officers who at any time belonged to the group during the seven years and three months from February 1938 to May 1945 The number of active members of the group at any one time is; of course, much smaller; it rose from about 20 at the outbreak of the war to 50 in 1944 and 1945.

The structure and functioning of the German General Staff and High Command group have been described in a series of affidavits by some of the principal German field marshals and generals A brief description of how these statements were obtained may be helpful. In the first place two American officers, selected for ability and experience in interrogating high-ranking German prisoners of war, were briefed by an Intelligence officer and a trial counsel on the particular problems presented by this part of the case. These interrogators were already well versed in military intelligence and were able to converse fluently in German. The officer who briefed these interrogators emphasized that their function was objectively to inquire into and to establish facts on which the prosecution wishes to be accurately and surely informed; the interrogators were not to regard themselves as cross-examiners. The German officers to be interrogated were selected on the basis of the special knowledge which they could be presumed to possess by reason of positions held by them during the past generation. After each interview the interrogator prepared a report. From this report such facts as appeared relevant to the issues now before the Tribunal were extracted and a statement embodying these facts was prepared. This statement was then presented to the officer at a later interview. It was presented in the form of a draft and

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the officer was asked whether it truly reproduced what he said at the previous interview. He was also invited to alter it in any way he thought fit. This careful and laborious, but necessary, process had as its object the procuring of the best possible testimony in the form of carefully considered statements.

These affidavits fully support the prosecution's description of the group, and conclusively establish that this group of officers was in fact the group which had the major responsibility for planning and directing the operations of the German Armed Forces.

The first of these affidavits is that of Franz Halder (3702- PS) who held the rank of Generaloberst (Colonel General), the equivalent of a four-star general in the American Army. Halder was chief of the General Staff of OKH from September 1938 to September 1942 and is, accordingly, a member of the group. His statement reads:

"Ultimate authority and responsibility for military affairs in Germany was vested in the Head of State who prior to 2 August 1934 was Field Marshall von Hindenburg and thereafter until 1945 was Adolf Hitler.

"Specialized military matters were the responsibility of the three branches of the Armed Forces subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces (at the same time Head of State), that is to say the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. In practice, supervision within this field was exercised by a relatively small group of high-ranking officers. These officers exercised such supervision in their official capacity and by virtue of their training, their positions and their mutual contacts. Plans for military operations of the German Armed Forces were prepared by members of this group according to the instructions of the OKW in the name of their respective Commanding Officers and were presented by them to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces (at the same time Head of State).

"The members of this group were charged with the responsibility of preparing for military operations within their competent fields and they actually did prepare for any such operations as were to be undertaken by troops in the field.

"Prior to any operation, members of this group were assembled and given appropriate directions by the Head of State. Examples of such meetings are the speech by Hitler to the Commanders-in-Chief on 22 August 1939 prior to the Polish campaign and the consultation at the Reich Chancellery on 14 June 1941 prior to the first Russian campaign. The com-

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position of this group and the relationship of its members to each other were as shown in the attached chart. This was in effect the General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces."

"(S) Halder" (3702-PS)

A substantially identical statement (3703-PS) was made by von Brauchitsch, who held the rank of Field Marshall, and who was Commander-in-Chief of the Army from 1938 to 1941. Von Brauchitsch was also, therefore, a member of the group. The only difference between the two statements is worth noting occurs in the last sentence of each. Halder states that the group described in the Indictment "was in effect the General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces," (3702-PS), whereas von Brauchitsch puts it a little differently, saying "in the hands of those who filled the positions shown in the chart lay the actual direction of the Armed Forces." (3703-PS)

Both von Brauchitsch and Halder have stated under oath that the General Staff chart (Chart Number 7) accurately portrays the top organization of the German Armed Forces. The statements by von Brauchitsch and Halder also fully support the prosecution's statement that the holders of the positions shown on this chart constitute the group in whom lay the major responsibility for the planning and execution of all Armed Forces matters.

Another affidavit by Halder (3707-PS) sets forth certain less important matters of detail:

"The most important department in the OKW was the Operations Staff -- in much the same way as the General Staff was in the Army and Air Force and the Naval War Staff in the Navy. Under Keitel there were a number of departmental chiefs who were equal in status with Jodl, but in the planning and conduct of military affairs they and their departments were less important and less influential than Jodl and Jodl's staff.

"The OKW Operations Staff was also divided into sections. Of these the most important was the section of which Warlimont was chief. It was called the 'National Defense' Section and was primarily concerned with the development of strategic questions. From 1941 onwards Warlimont, though charged with the same duties, was known as Deputy Chief of the OKW Operations Staff.

"There was during World War II no unified General Staff such as the Great General Staff which operated in World War I.

"Operational matters for the Army and Air Force were

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worked out by the group of high-ranking officers described in my Statement of 7 November (in the Army: 'General Staff of the Army'; in the Air Force 'General Staff of the Air Force') .

"Operational matters in the Navy were even in World War I not worked out by the 'Great General Staff' but by the Naval Staff."

"( Signed ) Franz Halder" (3707-PS)

This affidavit is primarily concerned with the functions of the General Staffs of the four Commanders of OKW, OKL, OKM, and OKH and fully supports the inclusion of the Chiefs of Staff of the four services in the indicted group, as well as the inclusion of Warlimont as Deputy Chief of the OKW Operations Staff, with his strategic planning responsibilities.

An affidavit (3708-PS) by the son of Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, who had the rank of Oberst (Colonel) in the German Air Force, and who was personal aide to Goering as Commander-in-Chief of the German Air Force, furnishes a few details on the Luftwaffe:

"Luftflottenchefs have the same status as the Oberbefehlshaber of an army. During the war they had no territorial authority and accordingly exercised no territorial jurisdiction.

"They were the highest troop commanders of the air force units subordinate to them and were directly under the command of the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force.

"Until the summer of 1944 they bore the designation 'Befehlshaber' and from then on that of 'Oberbefehlshaber.' This change of designation carried with it no change in the functions and responsibilities which they previously had."

"(Signed) Brauchitsch" (3708-PS)

(3) Functioning of the General Staff and High Command group. In many respects, the German military leaders functioned in the same general manner as obtains in the military establishments of other large nations. General plans were made by the staff officers and their assistants at OKW, OKH, OKL, and OKM, in collaboration with the field generals or admirals who ere entrusted with the execution of the plans. A decision to age a particular campaign would be made, needless to say, at the highest level, and the making of such a decision would involve Political and diplomatic questions as well as purely military considerations. When the decision was made, to attack Poland, for example, the top staff officers in Berlin and their assistants would

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work out general military plans for the campaign. These general plans would be transmitted to the Commanders of the Army groups and Armies who were to be in charge of the campaign. Consultation would follow between the top field commanders and the top staff officers at OKW and OKH, and the plans would be revised perfected, and refined in detail.

The manner in which the group worked, involving as it did the interchange of ideas and recommendations between the top staff officers at OKW and OKH and the principal field commanders, is graphically described in two affidavits by Field Marshall von Brauchitsch (3705-PS):


"In April 1939 I was instructed by Hitler to start military preparations for a possible campaign against Poland. Work was immediately begun to prepare an operational and deployment plan. This was then presented to Hitler and approved by him as amended by a change which he desired.

"After the operational and deployment orders had been given to the two Commanders of the army groups and the five Commanders of the armies, conferences took place with them about details in order to hear their desires and recommendations.

"After the outbreak of the war I continued this policy of keeping in close and constant touch with the Commanders-in-Chief of army groups and of armies by personal visits to their headquarters as well as by telephone, teletype or wireless. In this way I was able to obtain their advice and their recommendations during the conduct of military operations. In fact it was the accepted policy and common practice for the Commander- in-Chief of the Army to, consult his subordinate Commanders-in-Chief and to maintain a constant exchange of ideas with them. The Commander-in-Chief of the Army and his Chief of Staff communicated with army groups and, thru them as well as directly, with armies; thru army groups on strategical and tactical matters; directly on questions affecting supply and the administration of conquered territory occupied by these armies. An army group had no territorial jurisdiction. It had a relatively small staff which was concerned only with military operations. In all territorial matters it was the Commander-in-Chief of the army and not of the army group who exercised jurisdiction.

"(Signed) von Brauchitsch" (3705-PS)

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"When Hitler had made a decision to support the realization of his political objectives through military pressure or through the application of military force, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, if he was at all involved, ordinarily first received an appropriate oral briefing or an appropriate oral command.

"Operational and deployment plans were next worked out in the OKM. After these plans had been presented to Hitler, generally by word of mouth, and had been approved by him, there followed a written order from; the OKW to the three branches of the Armed Forces. In the meanwhile the OKH began to transmit the operational and deployment plans to the army groups and armies involved. Details of the operational and deployment plans were discussed by the OKH with the Commanders of the army groups and armies and with the Chiefs of Staff of these Commanders.

"During the operations the OKH maintained a constant exchange of ideas with the army groups by means of telephone, radio and courier. The Commander-in-Chief of the Army used every opportunity to maintain a personal exchange of ideas with the Commanders of army groups, armies and lower echelons by means of personal visits to them. In the war against Russia the Commanders of army groups and of armies were individually and repeatedly called in by Hitler for consultation.

"Orders for all operational matters went from the OKH to army groups and for all matters concerning supply and territorial jurisdiction from the OKH directly to the armies."

"(Signed) von Brauchitsch" (3705-PS)

The Oberbefehlshaber in the field, therefore and in the case of the army that means the Commander-in-Chief of army groups and armies -- participated in planning, and directed the execution of the plans. The Oberbefehlshaber were also the repositories of general executive power in the areas in which their army groups and armies were operating. This fact appears from a directive of 13 March 1941 signed by Keitel and issued by the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (447- PS). This directive sets out various regulations for the impending operations against the Soviet Union (which were actually begun on 22 June 1941). Under paragraph I, is entitled "Area of operations and executive power (Vollziehende Gewalt)", subparagraph 1 and 2 (a) provide:

"It is not contemplated to declare East Prussia and the Gen-

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eral-Gouvernement an area of operations. However, in accordance with the unpublished Fuehrer orders from 19 and 21 October 1939, the Commander in Chief of the Army shall be authorized to take all measures necessary for the execution of his military aim and for the safeguarding of the troops. He may transfer his authority onto the Commanders in Chief [Oberbefehlshaber] of the Army Groups and Armies. Orders of that kind have priority over all orders issued by civilian agencies."


"The area of operations created through the advance of the Army beyond the frontiers of the Reich and the neighboring countries is to be limited in depth as far as possible. The Commander-in-Chief of the Army has the right to exercise the executive power [Vollziehende Gewalt] in this area, and may transfer his authority onto the Commanders in Chief [Oberbefehlshaber] of the Army Groups and Armies." (447-PS)

The official command invitation to participate in consultations at the Reich Chancellery on 14 June 1941, eight days prior to the German attack on the Soviet Union, also shows the group at work (C-78). This meeting is referred to in the last paragraph of the affidavits by Halder (3702-PS) and von Brauchitsch (3703-PS) mentioned above. This document, signed by Colonel Schmundt, Chief Wehrmacht Adjutant to Hitler, and is dated at Berchtesgaden, 9 June 1941, begins:

"Re: Conference 'Barbarossa'

"The Fuehrer and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces has ordered reports on Barbarossa [the code name for the invasion of the U.S.S.R.] by the Commanders of Army Groups and Armies and Naval and Air Commanders of equal rank."

This document likewise includes a list of the participants in this conference which closely parallels the structure of the group as set forth in the Indictment. The list includes General Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, who was then Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and a member of the group; and General Halder, who was chief of the Army Staff, and a member of the group. Then there are three subordinates who were not members of the group: Paulus, Heusinger, and Gyldenfeldt. Next is navy Captain Wagner, who was chief of the Operations Staff, Operations Division of the Naval War Staff, not a member of the group. On the air side there were General Milch, State Secretary and Inspector of the Air Force, again not a member of the group; General Joschonnek, chief of the General Staff of the Air Force and a member of the group;

[Page 329] and two of his assistants. Passing to the OKW, High Command of the Armed Forces, we find that Keitel, Jodl, Warlimont, all members of the group, were present, with an assistant from the General Staff. Then there were four officers from the office of the adjutant, who were not members of the group. Present from the Field Commanders were General von Falkenhorst, Army High Command, Norway, member of the group; General Stumpff, Air Fleet 5, member of the group; Rundstedt, Reichenau, Stuelpnagel, Schobert, Kleist, all from the Army, all members of the group. Of the Air Force officers present, General Loehr, Air Fleet 4, was a member of the group; General Fromm and General Udet were not members. One was director of the Home Forces, commander of the Home Forces, and the other the Director General of Equipment and Supply. Turning to the Navy, those present were Raeder, a member of the group; Fricke, chief of the Naval War Staff, and a member of the group; and an assistant who was not a member, Carls, Navy Group North, member of the group, and likewise Schmundt were present. Then from the Army, Leeb, Busch, Kuechler, all members of the group as Oberbefehlshaber, and Keller, a member of the group, were present. Also Bock, Kluge, Strauss, Guderian, Hoth, Kesselring, all members of the group, were present. It will be seen that, except for a few assisting officers of relatively junior rank, all the participants in these consultations were members of the group, and that in fact the participants in these consultations included the members of the group who were concerned in the impending operations against the Soviet Union.

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