Black Reichswehr

Black Reichswehr (German: Schwarze Reichswehr) was the name for the extra-legal paramilitary formations promoted by the German Reichswehr army during the time of the Weimar Republic; it was raised despite restrictions imposed by the Versailles Treaty. The secret organization was dissolved in 1923[1] upon the failed Küstrin Putsch.

Restrictions on German Military Forces after World War I

The Versailles treaty restricted the numbers of the German army to seven divisions of infantry and three of cavalry, for a total of 100,000 men, and no more than 4,000 officers. Conscription was prohibited, and civilian employees engaged in forest protection, customs inspection and other official duties could not receive military training. The military was to be exclusively devoted to the maintenance of order within German territory and control of the frontiers.[2] The Treaty further prohibited the construction of aircraft, heavy artillery, submarines, capital ships, and tanks, and the production of materials for chemical warfare.

Naval forces were limited to 15,000 men; furthermore, the Treaty specified that the navy could number no more than six battleships of no more than 10,000 tons displacement, six cruisers (6,000 tons displacement), six destroyers (800 tons displacement), and 12 torpedo boats (200 tons displacement), and that these ships could only be replaced after twenty years for the first two classes of ships, and after fifteen years, for the remaining classes of ships. Article 191 specifically prohibited the production or acquisition of submarines. The Treaty further prohibited the manufacture, import and export of weapons and poison gas.[3]

To maintain these restrictions, the Treaty created an Allied military commission, whose job was to monitor German military activity, known as the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers.

Circumventing the Versailles Treaty military restrictions

The Reichswehr military organization, as it was reorganized under General Hans von Seeckt and Defence Minister Otto Gessler, evaded these prohibitions through a variety of measures. After the Third Silesian Uprising, several labour battalions were created from former Freikorps units under the command of Major Fedor von Bock, comprising about 2,000 service members and further 18,000 reservists, concentrated around the garrison town of Küstrin in Brandenburg. Black Reichswehr paramilitary forces comprised the SA troops of the Nazi Party, the Stahlhelm organization, and numerous Freikorps like the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, its Organisation Consul successor or Bund Oberland.

Though constantly denied by the Reichswehr supreme command and the Ministry of Defence, Black Reichswehr forces served in sabotage acts and assaults during the French Occupation of the Ruhr and were responsible for several Feme murders.[4]


  1. Shirer, William L. (1990). The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 65. ISBN 0-671-72868-7.
  2. Treaty of Versailles, Part V at Wikisource, article 160.
  3. Treaty of Versailles, Part V at Wikisource, Article 190.
  4. EYRE, LINCOLN (April 29, 1928). "Feme Revelations Appall Germany; Latest Trial of "Series Raises Number of Murder Victims From 20 to 200, High Officers Take Stand, Regulars and Black Reichswehr Chiefs" (April 29, 1928, p.46). New York Times.
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