The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht during its existence from 1935 until 1945 is believed to approach 18.2 million…
The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht during its existence from 1935 until 1945 is believed to approach 18.2 million. This figure was put forward by historian Rüdiger Overmans and represents the total number of people who ever served in the Wehrmacht, and not the force strength of the Wehrmacht at any point. About 1.3 million Wehrmacht soldiers were killed in action; 250,000 died from non-combat causes; 2.0 million missing in action and unaccounted for after the war; and 359,000 POW deaths, of whom 77,000 were in the custody of the U.S., UK, and France; POW dead includes 266,000 in the post war period after June 1945, primarily in Soviet captivity.
Legally, the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht was Adolf Hitler in his capacity as Germany’s head of state, a position he gained after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934. In the reshuffle in 1938, Hitler became the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and retained that position until his suicide on 30 April 1945. Administration and military authority initially lay with the war ministry under Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg. After von Blomberg resigned in the course of the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair (1938) the ministry was dissolved and the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW) under Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel was put in its place. It was headquartered in Wünsdorf near Zossen, and a field echelon (Feldstaffel) was stationed wherever the Führer’s headquarters were situated at a given time. Army work was also coordinated by the German General Staff, an institution that had been developing for more than a century and which had sought to institutionalize military excellence.
The OKW coordinated all military activities but Keitel’s sway over the three branches of service (army, air force, and navy) was rather limited. Each had its own High Command, known as Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH, army), Oberkommando der Marine (OKM, navy), and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL, air force). Each of these high commands had its own general staff. In practice the OKW had operational authority over the Western Front whereas the Eastern Front was under the operational authority of the OKH.
- OKW—the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces
- Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces—Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel (1938 to 1945)
- Chief of the Operations Staff (Wehrmachtführungsstab)—Generaloberst Alfred Jodl
- OKH—the Supreme Command of the Army
- Army Commanders-in-Chief
- Generaloberst Werner von Fritsch (1935 to 1938)
- Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch (1938 to 1941)
- Führer and Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler (1941 to 1945)
- Generalfeldmarschall Ferdinand Schörner (1945)
- Chief of Staff of the German Army
- General Ludwig Beck (1935 to 1938)
- General Franz Halder (1938 to 1942)
- General Kurt Zeitzler (1942 to 1944)
- Generaloberst Heinz Guderian (1944 to 1945)
- General Hans Krebs (1945, committed suicide in the Führer Bunker)
- OKM—the Supreme Command of the Navy
- Navy Commanders-in-Chief
- Grossadmiral Erich Raeder (1928 to 1943)
- Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz (1943 to 1945)
- Generaladmiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg (1945)
- OKL—the Supreme Command of the Air Force
- Air Force Commanders-in-Chief
- Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring (until 1945)
- Generalfeldmarschall Robert Ritter von Greim (1945)
The OKW was also tasked with central economic planning and procurement, but the authority and influence of the OKW’s war economy office (Wehrwirtschaftsamt) was challenged by the procurement offices (Waffenämter) of the single branches of service as well as by the Ministry for Armament and Munitions (Reichsministerium für Bewaffnung und Munition), into which it was merged after the ministry was taken over by Albert Speer in early 1942.