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Hans von Seeckt
Hans von Seeckt and Otto Gessler, 1930
Nickname 'The Sphinx'
Born (1866-04-22)22 April 1866
Died 27 December 1936(1936-12-27) (aged 70)
Place of birth Schleswig
Place of death Berlin
Buried at Invalidenfriedhof
Allegiance  German Empire
 Weimar Republic
Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch Kaiserstandarte.svg Imperial German Army
Years of service 1885–1926, 1933–35
Rank Generaloberst
Commands held Eleventh Army
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Pour le Mérite
Military Order of Max Joseph

Johannes Friedrich "Hans" von Seeckt (22 April 1866 – 27 December 1936) was a German military officer who served as Chief of Staff to August von Mackensen, and was a central figure in planning the victories Mackensen achieved for Germany in the east. In the interwar years he laid out the organization of the Reichswehr, the small army the Weimar Republic was allowed to have following the armistice. He served as a member of parliament from 1930 to 1932, and from 1933 to 1935 was repeatedly in China as a military consultant to Chiang Kai-shek in his war against the Communists.

Early life

Seeckt was born in Schleswig on 22 April 1866 to an old Pomeranian family, which had been ennobled in the eighteenth century.[1] Though the family had lost its estates, Seeckt was "a thorough-going aristocrat" and his father was an important general within the German Army, finishing his career as military governor of Posen.[2][3] Seeckt followed his father into military service, joining the Army in 1885 at the age of 18.[4] He served in the elite Kaiser Alexander Guard Grenadiers, then joined the Prussian General Staff in 1897.[5] In 1913, Seeckt became the Chief of Staff of the III Corps based in Berlin.[1]

First World War

Hans von Seeckt (3rd from right) next to Wilhelm II. (center) and von Mackensen (2nd from right) 1915

At the outbreak of the First World War, Seeckt held the rank of lieutenant colonel and served as chief of staff in the German III Army Corps. Seeckt marched with the Corps in the German offensive, and "distinguished himself" in fighting near Soissons, and was promoted to colonel on 27 January 1915.[1] In March 1915, he became chief of staff to General August von Mackensen of the German Eleventh Army, where he played a major role in planning and executing Mackensen's campaigns.[1] With the Eleventh Army, Seeckt fought in the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive of 2 May – 27 June 1915, where he was credited with engineering Mackensen's breakthrough, and received the Pour le Mérite, Prussia's highest military honor.[2][6]

In June 1915, Seeckt was promoted to the rank of Generalmajor, and in September he followed von Mackensen to Temesvar, where he joined the campaign against Serbia.[1] As with the case of the Gorlice offensive, Seeckt played a huge role in planning and execution of the conquest of Serbia between 6 October and 24 November 1915.[1] In June 1916 he became chief of staff for the Austro-Hungarian Seventh Army in Galicia.[6] Seeckt spent the last years of World War I serving in the Ottoman Empire. In 1917, Seeckt served as the acting Chief of Staff of the Ottoman Army. In his reports to Berlin, Seeckt supported the reforming efforts of the Young Turk government, writing that "the inner weakness of Turkey in their entirety, call for the history and custom of the new Turkish empire to be written".[7] Seeckt went on to add that "Only a few moments of the destruction are still mentioned. The upper levels of society had become unwarlike, the main reason being the increasing mixing with foreign elements of a long standing unculture".[7] Seeckt blamed all of the problems of the Ottoman empire on the Jews and the Armenians, whom he portrayed as a fifth column working for the Allies, and argued that the Armenian genocide was a harsh, but necessary measure on the part of the Young Turks to save Turkey from internal decay.[7] In July 1918, Seeckt sent a message to Berlin stating that "It is an impossible state of affairs to be allied with the Turks and to stand up for the Armenians. In my view any consideration, Christian, sentimental, and political should be eclipsed by a hard, but clear necessity for war".[7] Greatly influenced as were almost German officers of his generation by Carl von Clausewitz's theory of a trinity of state, society and the military, Seeckt took it for granted that to win a war required all three elements of the Clausewitizian trinity had to be aligned along lines that would produce victory. For this reason, Seeckt like other almost all German officers of his generation took the view that if society and/or the state were not properly aligned for war, then the military had both the right and duty to intervene in politics to reshape state and/or society, so the military could win.[8] As such, the idea that the military should limit itself only to military tasks struck Seeckt as absurd, and he saw one of the military's principle duties was to "educate" society for war.[8] Given these viewpoints, Seeckt only applaud the efforts of the Committee of Union and Progress-a group of army officers who taken power via coup-to modernize the Ottoman state and society to allow the Ottoman army to win wars.[8] Following the defeat of the Ottoman empire in October 1918, Seeckt returned to Germany in November 1918.[1]


As part of the terms of Treaty of Versailles, the General Staff of the German army was disbanded. Seeckt was the last man to serve as Chief of General Staff of the Imperial Army.[1] On 11 October 1919, Seeckt became the effective chief of the Reichswehr.[1] The Treaty of Versailles greatly restricted the size of the German military. It fell to Seeckt to organize the new Reichswehr within the strict restrictions imposed. Seeckt successfully laid the groundwork. With the General Staff forbidden, a shadow functional general staff was formed and called the Truppenamt or Troop Office. Seeckt never tried to hide his dislike of the Weimar republic, which he regarded as a transional regime which hopefully would end soon.[1] In a 1919 memo, Seeckt expressed the widely held anger over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, but also against the idea of Germany joining someday the League of Nations. Though in favor of peace in general, he doubted that it was a thing which mankind could achieve on its own. He noted that war was the natural state of humanity, and that being the case the duty of a German officer was to be prepared to fight the next war, if and when that time came to pass.[9] Seeckt argued: "My own training in history prevents me from seeing in the idea of permanent peace anything more than a dream whereby it remains an open question whether one can consider it, in Moltke's phrase, a 'good dream' or not".[9]

Seeckt was a firm believer in the "faith of the sword", and despite the devastating loss of the First World War he worked to ensure the German army maintained the defiant, offensive spirit that was its tradition.[10] Despite all of the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, he did not believe that men could be stopped from "thinking like men". He argued that one of the primary duties of a German officer was to keep the nation psychologically prepared for the next war.[9] Seeckt went on to state: "German officers and especially members of the general staff have never sought a fight for its own sake or been war-mongers. And they should not do so now, but they should also never forget the great deeds achieved by German warriors. Keeping the memory of them alive in ourselves and our people must be a sacred duty. For then neither officers nor people will lapse into enfeebling illusions of peace, but will remain aware that in the moment of truth only personal and national stature counts. If fate once again calls the German people to arms-and who can doubt that day will come?-then officers should not have to call on a nation of weaklings, but of strong men ready to take up familiar and trusted weapons. The form these weapons take is not so important if they are wielded by hands of steel and hearts of iron. So let us do our utmost to ensure that on that future day there is no lack of such hearts and hands; let us strive tirelessly to strengthen our own bodies and minds and those of our fellow Germans...It is the duty of every member of the general staff to make the Reichswehr not only a reliable pillar of the state, but also a school for the leaders of the nation. Beyond the army itself, every officer will sow the seed of manly attitudes throughout the population".[11] The Treaty of Versailles limited the Army to 100,000 men, only 4,000 of which could be officers. [1] As the commander in chief of the German Army, Seeckt wanted to ensure that the best officers were retained. The Reichswehr was designed as a cadre force that could be expanded if need be.[12] Almost all of the leaders of the Wehrmacht in World War Two were men that Seeckt chose to retain in 1919–20.[12]

American historians' Williamson Murray and Alan Millet wrote:

"In reducing the officer corps, Seeckt chose the new leadership from the best men of the general staff with ruthless disregard for other constituencies, such as war heroes and the nobility. The resulting emphasis on the serious study of the military profession, including its history and on honest communication between different levels of command ensured that the new officer corps would not repeat the errors of the last war. General staff officers had been central to the developing the revolutionary tactical conceptions of 1917 and 1918, and the new German officer corps accepted the values of the general staff in way that it had not before 1914."[12]

The army that Germany went to war with in 1939 was largely Seeckt's creation. The tactics and operational concepts of the Wehrmacht were the work of Seeckt in the 1920s. In addition, the majority of the senior officers and many of the middle-ranking officers were men that Seeckt had chosen to retain in the Reichswehr.[13] Seeckt created 57 different committees to study the last war to provide lessons learned for the next war.[13] Seeckt stated: "It is absolutely necessary to put the experience of the war in a broad light and collect this experience while the impressions won on the battlefield are still fresh and a major portion of the experienced officers are still in leading positions".[13] The result was the 1923 book Leadership and Battle with Combined Arms that outlined the combined arms tactics and operational ideas that went on to serve as the Wehrmacht's doctrine in the Second World War.[13] Seeckt envisioned Germany winning the next war by a series of highly mobile operations featuring combined arms operations of artillery, infantry, armor, and air power working together to concentrate superior firepower to crush the enemy at crucial points.[14] Seeing a significant role for air power in the next war, Seeckt kept a large number of officers in the Reichswehr who had experience in air combat. These officers formed the future officers corps of the Luffwaffe in the 1930s.[15] Seeckt's political views veered towards the far-right, especially a marked tendency to see the Jews as his enemies.[16] In a letter to his wife on 19 May 1919, Seeckt wrote about the new Prussian Prime Minister, Paul Hirsch: "He is not so bad and is an old parliamentarian. For this post he seems quite unsuitable, especially as a Jew; not only because this is in itself provocative, but because the Jewish talent is purely critical, hence negative and can never help in the construction of a state. This is no good".[17] Seeckt ignored the Constitution of 1919 which prohibited religious discrimination. He ordered that Jews were not to be accepted into the Reichswehr, no matter how qualified they might be.[18] Seeckt is known for his hostile attitude towards the Second Polish Republic, which had absorbed German territories. He was in favor of an alliance with the Soviet Union, which had also lost territory to Poland. After seeing encouraging signs from the newly established War Commissar's Office of Leon Trotsky, Seeckt sent out a secret staff to conduct a military alliance with the Soviets, unbeknownst to the Weimar government. In October 1919 Seeckt sent out his close friend Enver Pasha on a secret mission to Moscow to make contracts with the Soviets.[19] In the summer of 1920, Enver sent Seeckt a letter from Moscow asking for German arms deliveries to the Soviet Union in exchange for which Trotsky promised to partition Poland with the Reich.[19] Though Seeckt did not hesitate to use military force against putsch attempts by the German Communists, this did not affect his relations with the Soviet Union.[20] Seeckt regarded his informal alliance with the Soviet Union in purely non-ideological terms.[20] Seeckt regarded the efforts of General Rüdiger von der Goltz and his Freikorps to create an anti-communist, German-dominated state in the Baltic as a ludicrous attempt to turn back the clock.[21] Seeckt was all for seeing von der Goltz conquer the Baltic states if that was possible, but was very antagonistic towards Goltz's efforts to use his proposed state as a basis for overthrowing the Bolsheviks.[21] Seeckt saw Poland as the main enemy and the Soviet Union as a very useful ally against Poland, so he viewed Goltz's anti-Communist schemes with some hostility.[21]

von Seeckt together with officers at the Reichswehr maneuvers in Thuringia 1925

After the Allies sent the German government a list of war criminals to be tried Seeckt called a conference of Staff Officers and departmental heads on 9 February 1920 and said to them that if the German government refused, or were unable, to reject the Allied demands, the Reichswehr must oppose this by all means even if this meant the reopening of hostilities. He further said that if the Allies invaded Germany—which he believed they would not—then the German army in the West should retire behind the Weser and the Elbe, as this was where defensive positions had already been built. In the East, German troops would invade Poland and attempt to establish contacts with the Soviet Union, after which they would both march against France and Britain. He added that German war material would now no longer be sold or destroyed and that the army should be reduced on paper only.[22] An Interior Minister of Prussia, Albert Grzesinski, wrote that members of Seeckt's staff said that Seeckt desired a military dictatorship, perhaps headed by Gustav Noske.[23]

The military refused to accept the democratic Weimar republic as legitimate and instead the Reichswehr under the leadership of Seeckt became a “state within the state” that operated largely outside of the control of the politicians.[24] This was most clearly illustrated by Seeckt's role during the Kapp Putsch of March 1920. During the Kapp Putsch of March 1920, Seeckt disobyed orders from the Defence Minister Gustav Noske, the Chancellor Gustav Bauer and the Reich President Friedrich Ebert to suppress the putsch, claiming "There can be no question of sending the Reichwehr to fight these people".[25] Seeckt's actions were entirely illegal as under the Weimar constitution the President was the Supreme Commander in Chief, and moreover Seeckt had violated the Reichswehreid oath, which committed the military to defending the republic.[26] Seeckt ordered the military to disregard Ebert's orders to defend the republic, and instead assumed a stance of apparent neutrality, which in effect meant siding with the Kapp putsch by depriving the government of the means of defending itself. Seeckt had no loyalty to the Weimar republic, and his sympathies were entirely with the Kapp putsch, but at the same time, Seeckt regarded the putsch as premature, and chose to sit on the fence to see how things developed rather committing himself to the putsch.[25] As a result of Seeckt's refusal to defend the government that he taken a solemn oath to defend, the government was forced to flee Berlin, which was taken by the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt on the morning of 13 March 1920 without a shot being fired.[27] The putsch only failed after the government called for a general strike, which shut down the German economy. Once it was become clear that the regime established in Berlin under the nominal leadership of Wolfgang Kapp could not function on the account of the general strike, Seeckt send Colonel Wilhelm Heye to meet with General Walther von Lüttwitz, the real leader of the Kapp putsch to inform him that it was time to end the putsch.[28] At the same time, Seeckt showed his sympathy for the putsch by arranging with Captain Hermann Ehrhardt that the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt should march out of Berlin with all the honors of war, during the course of which march the men of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt fired on jeering Berliners, killing a number of them.[28] The position of the military as "state within the state" led to only those few officers and soldiers who had attempted to defend the republic being dismissed, and the officers led by Seeckt who had done nothing to defend the republic were allowed to continue with their jobs.[29] The same officers who violated the Reichswehreid during the Kapp putsch by disobying Ebert's orders to suppress the putsch were later to claim that the Hitler oath made it impossible for them to resist the Nazi regime. Seeckt's remark to the leaders of the republic, that "Reichswehr do not fire on Reichswehr", was controversial. His reserved attitude towards Weimar Republic is illustrated by a brief conversation held with President Ebert. When asked by Ebert where the Reichswehr stood, von Seeckt answered “The Reichswehr stands behind me”, and after the question whether the Reichswehr was reliable, Seeckt answered: “I don't know if it is reliable but it obeys my orders!”.

From 1920 to 1926 Seeckt held the position of Chef der Heeresleitung—in fact if not in name commander of the army of the new Weimar Republic, the Reichswehr. In working to build a professional army within and without the confines of the Treaty of Versailles, Seeckt advanced the concept of the army as a "state-within-a-state". This matched the conditions of the Versailles Treaty which were aimed at creating a long-term professional army with a ceiling of 100,000 volunteers and without significant reserves - a force which would not be able to challenge the much larger French Army. Seeckt was a monarchist by personal inclination who encouraged the retention of traditional links with the old Imperial Army. With this purpose he designated individual companies and squadrons of the new Reichswehr as the direct successors of particular regiments of the emperor's army.

In 1921, Seeckt founded the Arbeits-Kommandos (Work Commandos) commanded by Major Ernst von Buchrucker, which was officially a labour group intended to assist with civilian projects, but in reality were thinly disguised soldiers that allowed Germany to exceed the limits on troop strength set by Versailles.[30] The control of the Arbeits-Kommandos was exercised through a secret group known as Sondergruppe R comprising Kurt von Schleicher, Eugen Ott, Fedor von Bock and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord.[30] Buchrucker's so-called "Black Reichswehr" became infamous for its practice of murdering all those Germans whom it was suspected were working as informers for the Allied Control Commission, which was responsible for ensuring that Germany was in compliance with Part V.[31] The killings perpetrated by the "Black Reichswehr were justified by the revival of the Femegerichte (secret court) system.[31] These killings were ordered by the officers from Sondergruppe R.[31] Regarding the Femegerichte murders, Carl von Ossietzky wrote:

"Lieutenant Schulz (charged with the murder of informers against the "Black Reichswehr") did nothing but carry out the orders given him, and that certainly Colonel von Bock, and probably Colonel von Schleicher and General Seeckt, should be sitting in the dock beside him".[32]

Several times the officers from Sondergruppe R perjured themselves in court when they denied that the Reichswehr had anything to do with the "Black Reichswehr" or the murders they had committed.[33] In a secret letter sent to the President of the German Supreme Court, which was trying a member of the Black Reichswehr for murder, Seeckt admitted that the Black Reichswehr was controlled by the Reichswehr, and argued that the murders were justified by the struggle against Versailles, so the court should acquit the defendant.[34]

In 1921, Seeckt had Kurt von Schleicher of Sondergruppe R, negotiate the arrangements with Leonid Krasin for German aid to the Soviet arms industry.[35] In September 1921, at a secret meeting in Schleicher's apartment, the details of an arrangement for German financial and technological aid for building up the Soviet arms industry in exchange for Soviet support in helping Germany evade the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles were agreed to.[36] Schleicher created a shell corporation known as the GEFU (Gesellschaft zur Förderung gewerblicher Unternehmungen-Company for the promotion of industrial enterprise) that funnelled 75 million Reichmarks into the Soviet arms industry.[37] The GEFU founded factories in the Soviet Union for the production of aircraft, tanks, artillery shells and poison gas.[36] The arms contracts of GEFU in the Soviet Union ensured that Germany did not fall behind in military technology in the 1920s despite being disarmed by Versailles, and laid the covert foundations in the 1920s for the overt rearmament of the 1930s.[38]

Seeckt was a leading advocate of the policy of rapprochement with the Soviet Union, which he saw as the best way to destroy the international system established by the Treaty of Versailles.[39] Seeckt's pro-Soviet policies caused considerable tension with the former Foreign Minister Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, who was to be sent out as the Ambassador to Moscow. Brockdorff-Rantzau was just as committed as Seeckt to the destruction of Versailles, but rather preferred to accomplish that goal through an alliance with Britain.[40] Moreover, Brockdorff-Rantzau feared that a too close rapprochement with the Soviet Union would alienate Britain and drive her into the arms of France.[41] In response, on 11 September 1922, Seeckt sent a memo to Brockdorff-Rantzau entitled "Germany's Attitude to the Russian Problem".[41] Some of Seeckt's salient points were:

"Germany must pursue a policy of action. Every State must do that. The moment it stops pursuing a forward policy it ceases to be a State. An active policy must have a goal and a driving force. For carrying it out it is essential to assess one's own strength correctly and at the same time understand the methods and aims of the other powers.

The man who bases his political ideas on the weakness of his own country, who sees only dangers, or whose only desire is to remain stationary, is not pursuing a policy at all, and should be kept far away from the scene of activity.

The years 1814/15 saw France in complete military and political collapse, yet no one at the Congress of Vienna followed a more active policy than Talleyrand — to France's advantage. Has the world ever seen a greater catastrophe than that suffered by Russia in the last war? Yet with what vigor the Soviet Government recovered, both at home and abroad! Did not the Sick Man of Europe seem to be dead once more and for all, and buried by the Treaty of Sèvres? Yet today, after the victory over Greece, he stands up to England with confidence. He followed an active Turkish policy.

Have not Germany's first stirrings in active politics, the Treaty of Rapallo, clearly brought her at last nearer to being more respected?.

This treaty splits opinion into different camps when the Russian problem is considered. The main point about it is not its economic value, though that is by no means inconsiderable, but its political achievement. This association between Germany and Russia is the first and almost the only increase in power which we have so far obtained since peace was made. That this association should begin in the field of economics is a natural consequence of the general situation, but its strength lies in the fact that this economic rapprochement is preparing the way for the possibility of a political and, thus also, a military association. It is beyond a doubt that such a double association would strengthen Germany-and also Russia … The whole policy of reconciliation and appeasement towards France — no matter whether it is pursued by a Stinnes or by General Ludendorff — is hopeless as it aims at political success. The question of orientation towards the West, as far as France is concerned is ruled out …

England is drifting towards another historic conflict with France, even through she does not face imminent war. That lurks in the background. A glance at the East is surely sufficient even for those who before Genoa did not wish to use their eyes and ears. The British interests in the Dardanelles, Egypt and India are certainly infinitely more important at the moment than those on the Rhine, and an understanding between Britain and France at Germany's expense, that is, a concession by Britain in return for an immediate advantage, is by no means improbable. Yet even such an understanding would be only temporary. The moment is coming, and must come, when Britain will be looking for allies on the Continent. When that moment arrives she will prefer the mercenary who is growing in strength, and will even have to make him stronger.

A rapprochement between Germany and Russia would not have a decisive influence on Britain's attitude either in making a concession to France or in searching for an ally. British policy is ruled by other more compelling motives than anxiety about some far-distant threat from a Russia made strong with the help of Germany...

With Poland we come now to the core of the Eastern problem. The existence of Poland is intolerable and incompatible with Germany's vital interests. She must disappear and will do so through her own inner weakness and through Russia — with our help. Poland is more intolerable for Russia than for ourselves; Russia can never tolerate Poland. With Poland collapses one of the strongest pillars of the Peace of Versailles, France's advance post of power [is lost]. The attainment of this objective must be one of the firmest guiding principles of German policy, as it is capable of achievement — but only through Russia or with her help.

Poland can never offer Germany any advantage, either economically, because she is incapable of development, or politically, because she is a vassal state of France. The restoration of the frontier between Russia and Germany is a necessary condition before both sides can become strong. The 1914 frontier between Russia and Germany should be the basis of any understanding between the two countries...

I will touch one or two more objections to the policy demanded towards Russia. Germany today is certainly not in a position to resist France. Our policy should be to prepare the means of doing so in the future. A French advance through Germany to go to the help of Poland would make nonsense from the military point of view, so long as Germany does not voluntarily co-operate. The idea springs from the notions of our 1919 diplomats, and there have been three years of work since then. War on the Rhine between France and Russia is a political bogy. Germany will not be Bolshevized, even by an understanding with Russia on external matters.

The German nation, with its Socialist majority, would be averse to a policy of action, which has to reckon with the possibility of war. It must be admitted that the spirit surrounding the Peace Delegation at Versailles has not yet disappeared, and that stupid cry of 'No more war!' is widely echoed. It is echoed by many bourgeois-pacifist elements, but among the workers, and also among the members of the official Social Democratic Party there are many who are not prepared to eat out of the hands of France and Poland. It is true that there is a widespread and understandable need for peace among the German people. The clearest heads, when considering the pros and cons of war, will be those of the military, but to pursue a policy means to take a lead. In spite of everything, the German people will follow the leader in the struggle for their existence. Our task is to prepare for this struggle, for we shall not be spared it".[42]

Seeckt's memo to won Brockdorff-Rantzau over to his policy[20] After Seeckt had met Adolf Hitler for the first time on 11 March 1923 he wrote: "We were one in our aim; only our paths were different".[43] On the night of 29–30 September 1923, the Black Reichswehr under the leadership of Major Buchrucker attempted a putsch.[44] Seeckt was prompt in his response, ordering the Reichswehr to crush Buschrucker's putsch by laying siege to the forts he had seized outside of Berlin.[45] After two days, Buchrucker surrendered.[45] Seeckt firmly resisted Hitler's Putsch on 8–9 November 1923, insisting that the Bavarian Division of the Reischswehr remain loyal to the state.[45] The British historian John Wheeler-Bennett wrote that Seeckt was loyal to the Reich, not the Republic and that ideologically Seeckt sympathized with Erich Ludendorff, Buchrucker and Hitler.[45] Seeckt was only opposed to the Munich Beer Hall putsch and Buckrucker's putsch because the stated aim of the Nazis and the Black Reichswehr was to reject the peaceful settlement of the Ruhrkampf that had been agreed to in September and instead go to war with France in 1923.[45] Seeckt knowing the most probable outcome of such war preferred that the Weimar Republic stay in existence, at least for the moment when painful compromises were necessary.[45] Wheeler-Bennett wrote that if there were any chance that Germany could have defeated France in 1923, then Seeckt would have gladly joined forces with the Nazis.[45] Seeckt strongly opposed the Locarno Treaties which he viewed as appeasement of France and was skeptical of German membership of the League of Nations because he believed it was compromising Germany's connections with the Soviet Union.[46] In particular, Seeckt objected to joining the League as one of the conditions for League membership was the commitment not to engage in aggression against other League members, something that put something of a damper on Seeckt's plans for aggression against Poland.[47] In a 1925 memo, Seeckt declared that:

"We must become powerful, and as soon as we have power, we will naturally take back everything we have lost".[48]

The German historian Wolfram Wette wrote that Seeckt did not seek only to overturn the international order created by Germany's defeat in 1918, but rather wanted to see Germany win the "world power status" that had been sought in World War I, which by necessity meant another war.[49] Wette also noted that it striking the lack of any sort of economic rationale in Seeckt's thinking for Germany to become a world power, which was presented as a goal to be achieved in and of itself.[49]

Seeckt was eventually forced to resign on 9 October 1926 after permitting Prince Wilhelm, the grandson of the former emperor to attend army manoeuvres in the uniform of the old imperial First Foot Guards without first seeking government approval.

While running the military, Von Seeckt only allowed skilled men to be in the 100,000 man army. He locked them into a mandatory 12 years of confirmed military service with full board and pay, allowing for a form of stability that rarely existed in the midst of massive economic depression in Germany. He gained the loyalty of his men by paying them six times the amount of a French army soldier.

Von Seeckt made the training standards of the Reichswehr the toughest in the world. Von Seeckt trained them in anti-air and anti-tank battles by creating wooden weapons and staging mock battles under the guise of training the soldiers for reintroduction into civilian life. Von Seeckt disciplined this small army much differently than past German armies. For instance, rather than the harsh punishments of the Imperial Army, minor offenders were forced to spend off-hour duties lying under a bed and singing old Lutheran hymns. To make the training appear less military, photos were published of recruits being taught topics like horse anatomy and beekeeping.[50]

In China

von Seeckt with a guard of honor on occasion of his 70th birthday (together with von Blomberg and von Fritsch) 1936

Grave at Invalidenfriedhof, Berlin

From 1930–1932 Seeckt sat in the Reichstag as a member of the DVP, after failing to be adopted as a candidate for the Centre Party. In October 1931, Seeckt was a featured speaker at the rally at Bad Harzburg which led to the founding of the Harzburg Front.[51] In the presidential election of 1932 he wrote to his sister, urging her to vote for Hitler.[51] From 1933–1935 he served as an adviser to Chiang Kai-shek and helped to establish a new basis for Sino-German cooperation. In October 1933, Seeckt arrived in China to head the German military mission.[52] At the time of his arrival, Sino-German relations were in a bad state owing to the racial arrogance of the Germans, and Chiang was considering firing the Germans and bringing in a French military mission.[52] In order to save the military mission, Seeckt ordered the German officers to behave with more tact towards the Chinese and to start showing some respect for Chinese sensibilities.[52] In this way, Seeckt saved Germany's position in China.[52] Seeckt advised Chiang that China needed a 60 division army, which he proposed to arm with the latest in German military technology and to train German-style to wage combined arms operations that he had previously trained the German Army for in the 1920s.[53] Seeckt stressed that he only wanted the best Chinese officers, whom he would train in modern warfare and he wanted the National Revolutionary Army to be an elite force that would make up for what it lacked in quantity through its quality.[53] Seeckt further stressed he wanted to see the end of regionalism in the Chinese military, and the army he wanted to train would be led by officers who were loyal only to Chiang with no regional loyalties to tug at their hearts.[53] To this end, Seeckt suggested that a new educational system be created where prospective officers were to be indoctrinated into Kuomingtang ideology to end all regional loyalties and ensured that henceforth Chinese officers were loyal only to the national government.[53] Finally, Seeckt urged Chiang to adopt policies to industrialize China to end the need to import Western weapons and to start fortifying the lower Yangtze valley at once.[53] To this end, Seeckt suggested a trade agreement where China would aid Germany's military policies by providing food and minerals needed for weapons, especially tungsten in exchange for which Germany would provide China with advanced military weapons and the industrial machinery which would ultimately make China self-sufficient in producing modern weapons.[53] In March 1934, Chiang not only appointed Seeckt his Chief Military Advisor, but also appointed him as the Deputy Chairman of the Military Affairs Council.[53] In that capacity Seeckt chaired the twice weekly meetings at Nanjing between Chiang and his most senior generals.[53] At a meeting at Mount Lu in 1934, Seeckt's 60 division plan was adopted, and to create that army, a 10-year plan was adopted that called for educating the most intelligent Chinese students along the lines that Seeckt had called for to provide the sort of Chinese officer that Seeckt had insisted was crucial for his plans.[54] The American historian David L Bongard wrote that "the Chinese troops which he trained later proved to be a bulwark of Chinese resistance to Japan's invasion of China in the late 1930s".[55]

In early 1934, Seeckt advised Chiang that to defeat the Chinese Communists was to wage a scorched earth policy which in turn required building a series of lines and forts around areas controlled by the Communists in the Jiangxi Soviet in order to force the Communist guerrillas to fight in the open, where the superior firepower of the Nationalists would give them an advantage.[56] Following Seeckt's advice, in the spring and summer of 1934 the Kuomingtang built three thousand "turtle shell" forts linked by a series of roads while at the same time pursuing a scorched earth policy around the forts as part of the Fifth Bandit Extermination Campaign in Jiangxi.[55][56] It was Seeckt's tactics that led to a series of defeats suffered by the Chinese Communists that finally in October 1934 led to the famous Long March.[57] But on returning to Germany from China he became disillusioned with Hitler.[citation needed]

Von Seeckt died in Berlin on 27 December 1936, and was buried at Invalidenfriedhof. The American historian David Bongard wrote that Seeckt was "A haughty, cold, distant and intellectually calculating soldier, Seeckt was a talented staff officer and planner; as effective chief of staff, he made no effort to reconcile either himself or the officer corps to the Weimar Republic...".[55]

Decorations and awards

See also

  • Sino-German cooperation


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Bongard, David "Seeckt, Hans von" pages 670-671 from The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography edited by Trevor Dupuy, Curt Johnson & David Bongard, New York: HarperCollins, 1992 page 670.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kochan 37.
  3. Gordon 94.
  4. "Hans von Seeckt (German general)". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  5. Abenheim, Donald. "Seeckt, Gen Hans von". The Oxford Companion to Military History. Ed., Richard Holmes. Oxford University Press, 2001.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Seeckt, Hans von" Encyclopedia of World War One. Ed., Spencer Tucker.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Dabag, Mihran "The Decisive Generation: Self-authorization and delegations in deciding a genocide" pages 113-135 from Genocide: Approaches, Case Studies, And Responses edited by Graham Charles Kinloch, Raj P. Mohan, New York: Algora Publishing, 2005 page 121.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Dabag, Mihran "The Decisive Generation: Self-authorization and delegations in deciding a genocide" pages 113-135 from Genocide: Approaches, Case Studies, And Responses edited by Graham Charles Kinloch, Raj P. Mohan, New York: Algora Publishing, 2005 pages 121-122.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Wette, Wolfram The Wehrmacht, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006 page 144.
  10. Guderian 1937, p. 134.
  11. Wette, Wolfram The Wehrmacht, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006 pages 144-145.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Murray, Williamson & Millet, Alan A War To Be Won, Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2000 page 22.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Murray 2000, p. 22.
  14. van de Ven 2003, p. 153.
  15. Murray 2000, p. 33.
  16. Wette, Wolfram The Wehrmacht, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006 pages 66-67.
  17. Wette, Wolfram The Wehrmacht, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006 page 67.
  18. Wette, Wolfram The Wehrmacht, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006 pages 67-68.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 126.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 139.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 122.
  22. J. W. Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power. The German Army in Politics. 1918-1945. Second Edition London: Macmillan, 1967 page 71.
  23. Wheeler-Bennett, p. 71, n. 3.
  24. Kolb, Eberhard The Weimar Republic London: Routledge, 2005 page 172.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 76.
  26. Nicholls, A.J. Weimar and the Rise of Hitler, London: Macmillan, 2000, pages 69–70.
  27. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 77.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 81.
  29. Nicholls, A.J. Weimar and the Rise of Hitler, London: Macmillan, 2000, page 71.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 92.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 93.
  32. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 pages 93-94.
  33. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 93-94.
  34. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 pages 94-95.
  35. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 pages 127-128.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 184.
  37. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 128.
  38. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 130.
  39. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 125.
  40. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 pages 132-133.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 133.
  42. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 pages 133-138.
  43. Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power London: Macmillan, 1967 page 118, n. 1.
  44. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 111.
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 45.5 45.6 Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 112. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Wheeler-Bennett, John page 112" defined multiple times with different content
  46. Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power London: Macmillan, 1967 page 141.
  47. Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power London: Macmillan, 1967 pages 141-142.
  48. Wette, Wolfram The Wehrmacht, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006 page 146.
  49. 49.0 49.1 Wette, Wolfram The Wehrmacht, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006 page 147.
  50. "Prelude to War", Robert T. Elson, Time-Life Books. 1977.
  51. 51.0 51.1 Wheeler-Bennett, p. 223, n. 1.
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 52.3 Liang, Hsi-Huey "China, the Sino-Japanese Conflict and the Munich Crisis" pages 342-369 from The Munich Crisis edited by Erik Goldstein and Igor Lukes, Frank Cass: London, 1999 page 346.
  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2 53.3 53.4 53.5 53.6 53.7 Ven, Hans van de War and Nationalism in China: 1925-1945, London: Routledge, 2003 page 153.
  54. Ven, Hans van de War and Nationalism in China: 1925-1945, London: Routledge, 2003 page 155.
  55. 55.0 55.1 55.2 Bongard, David "Seeckt, Hans von" pages 670-671 from The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography edited by Trevor Dupuy, Curt Johnson & David Bongard, New York: HarperCollins, 1992 page 671.
  56. 56.0 56.1 Fenby, Jonathan Chiang Kai-Shek, New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004 page 257.
  57. Fenby, Jonathan Chiang Kai-Shek, New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004 pages 257-258 & 261.
  • Corum, James S The roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans von Seeckt and German military reform Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 1992. ISBN
  • Gordon, Harold (Summer 1956). "The Character of Hans von Seeckt". Military Affairs. JSTOR 1983219. 
  • Guderian, Heinz Achtung-Panzer! London, Wellington House, 1937. (Reissue edition, 1999).
  • Kochan, Lionel (July/Dec 1950). "General von Seeckt". Contemporary Review. p. 37. 
  • Liddell Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. New York, NY: Morrow, 1948.
  • Murray, Williamson & Millet, Alan A War To Be Won Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2000. ISBN
  • Ven, Hans van de War and Nationalism in China: 1925-1945 London: Routledge, 2003. ISBN
  • Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John The Nemesis of Power: German Army in Politics, 1918-1945. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Company, 2005.

Further reading

  • Craig, Gordon. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, 1964.
  • The American Heritage Picture History of World War II Volume One. New York: American Heritage Publishing Company, 1966
  • Albert Seaton. The German Army 1933-45. ISBN 0-297-78032-8
Military offices
Preceded by
Wilhelm Groener
Chief of the Troop Office
Succeeded by
Wilhelm Heye

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