House flag with RAD symbol, colloquially known as "coffee-bean"
RAD squad, 1940.
|Formed||26 June 1935|
|Dissolved||8 May 1945|
350,000 (October 1939)
|Parent agency||Reich Ministry of the Interior (nominally)|
The Reichsarbeitsdienst (translated to Reich Labour Service, abbreviated RAD) was a major organisation established by Nazi Germany as an agency to help mitigate the effects of mass unemployment on German economy, militarise the workforce and indoctrinate it with Nazi ideology.
From June 1935 onwards, men aged between 18 and 24 had to serve six months before their military service. During World War II compulsory service also included young women and the RAD developed to an auxiliary formation which provided support for the Wehrmacht armed forces.
In the course of the Great Depression, the German government of the Weimar Republic under Chancellor Heinrich Brüning by emergency decree had established the Freiwilliger Arbeitsdienst (Voluntary Labour Service, FAD) on 5 June 1931, two years before the Nazi Party ascended to power. The state sponsored employment organisation provided services to civic and land improvement projects, from 16 July 1932 it was headed by Friedrich Syrup in the official rank of a Reichskommissar. The idea of a national compulsory service was quite popular, especially in right-wing circles, but it had little effect on the economic situation.
The concept was adopted by Adolf Hitler, who upon the Nazi Machtergreifung in 1933 appointed Konstantin Hierl state secretary in the Reich Ministry of Labour, responsible for FAD matters. Hierl was already a high-ranking member of the NSDAP and head of the party's labour organization, the Nationalsozialistischer Arbeitsdienst or NSAD. Hierl developed the concept of a state labour service organisation similar to the Reichswehr army, with a view to implementing a compulsory service. Meant as an evasion of the regulations set by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, voluntariness initially was maintained after protests by the Geneva World Disarmament Conference.
Hierl's rivalry with Labour Minister Franz Seldte led to the affiliation of his office as a FAD Reichskommissar with the Interior Ministry under his party fellow Wilhelm Frick. On 11 July 1934, the NSAD was renamed Reichsarbeitsdienst or RAD and Hierl would be its director until the end of World War II. By law issued on 26 June 1935, the RAD was re-established as an amalgamation of the many prior labour organisations formed in Germany during the times of the Weimar Republic, with Hierl as appointed Reichsarbeitsführer (Reich Labour Leader) according to the Führerprinzip. With massive financial support by the German government, RAD members were to provide service for mainly military and to a lesser extent civic and agricultural construction projects.
The RAD was divided into two major sections, the Reichsarbeitsdienst Männer (RAD/M) for men and the voluntary, from 1939 compulsory, Reichsarbeitsdienst der weiblichen Jugend (RAD/wJ) for women.
The RAD was composed of 33 districts each called an Arbeitsgau (lit. Work District) similar to the Gaue subdivisions of the Nazi Party. Each of these districts was headed by an Arbeitsgauführer officer with headquarters staff and a Wachkompanie (Guard Company). Under each district were between six and eight Arbeitsgruppen (Work Groups), battalion-sized formations of 1200–1800 men. These groups were divided into six company-sized RAD-Abteilung units.
Conscripted personnel had to move into labour barracks. Each rank and file RAD man was supplied with a spade and a bicycle. A paramilitary uniform was implemented in 1934; beside the swastika brassard, the RAD symbol, an arm badge in the shape of an upward pointing shovel blade, was displayed on the upper left shoulder of all uniforms and great-coats worn by all personnel. Men and women had to work up to 76 hours a week.
The RAD was classed as Wehrmachtgefolge (lit. Defence Force Following). Auxiliary forces with this status, while not a part of the Armed Forces themselves, provided such vital support that they were given protection by the Geneva Convention. Some, including the RAD, were militarised.
During the early war Norwegian and Western campaigns, hundreds of RAD units were engaged in supplying frontline troops with food and ammunition, repairing damaged roads and constructing and repairing airstrips. Throughout the course of the war, the RAD were involved in many projects. The RAD units constructed coastal fortifications (many RAD men worked on the Atlantic Wall), laid minefields, manned fortifications, and even helped guard vital locations and prisoners.
The role of the RAD was not limited to combat support functions. Hundreds of RAD units received training as anti-aircraft units and were deployed as RAD Flak Batteries. Several RAD units also performed combat on the eastern front as infantry. As the German defences were devastated, more and more RAD men were committed to combat. During the final months of the war RAD men formed 6 major frontline units, which were involved with serious fighting. On the western front Reicharbeitsdienst troops were used as reinforcements to the 9SS Engineer Abt (SS-Captain Moeller) in the fighting to retake the northern end of the Arnhem bridge from British Paratroopers under Col. Frost. This action was during Operation Market-Garden, September, 1944. It was noted that the troops had no combat experience. SS-Captain Moeller's report concluded: "These men were rather sceptical and reluctant at the beginning, which was hardly surprising. But when they were put in the right place they helped us a lot; and in time they integrated completely, becoming good and reliable comrades." Losses for these troops were in the hundreds.
- Hartmut Heyck, "Labour Services in the Weimar Republic and their Ideological Godparents", Journal of Contemporary History, 2003; 38: 221-236
- Moeller 'Die Schlacht um Arnheim-Oosterbeek. Der Einsatz des Pionier Battalion 9 Hohenstaufen vom 17. bis 26. September 1944.
- Kiran Klaus Patel: Soldaten der Arbeit. Arbeitsdienste in Deutschland und den USA, 1933-1945, Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2003 459 S. ISBN 3-525-35138-0.
- English title: "Soldiers of Labor. Labor Service in Nazi Germany and New Deal America", 1933–1945, Cambridge University Press, New York 2005, ISBN 0-521-83416-3.
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