The Kriegs Akademie 1936 – 1938

 General Albert Wedemeyer’s most significant military schooling was the two years he spent at the German military school in Berlin, the Kriegsadademie, 1936 – 1938. The experience shaped his entire professional outlook, and had a profound impact on his career. Wedemeyer was introduced to Grand Strategy, battle tactics, armored infantry maneuvers, tactical use of air power, and how to effectively coordinate these military employments in battle. He actually had the experience of commanding a German armored division in a mock battle, the only American to have ever had this experience. Further, he  witnessed a “hypothetical” invasion ofCzechoslovakia which in a short period of time turned out to be not so hypothetical at all.

The knowledge he gained proved to be  of enormous value when Wedemeyer later wrote his report on his experience when he returned to theUnited   States. General George C Marshall, soon to become Chief of Staff was enormously impressed with the report and called Wedemeyer in for several one on one conferences.Marshallmarked Wedemeyer as a young man to be watched and was soon to call upon him for one of the most important assignments of the war.

While a student at the school, he had the unique opportunity to enormously expand his knowledge of military science, and was an eyewitness to the build up of the events which shortly would propel the world into the cataclysm of World War II. He saw young Germans, part of the new youth movement, proudly and arrogantly marching with flying flags and Nazi armbands parading through the streets, young men soon to spill their blood on the battlefield. He witnessed Storm Troopers and Brownshirts persecuting the Nazis new enemy, the Jew.

Wedemeyer marveled at the Nazis building up their armed forces at a dizzying rate, and it was obvious to him that Germanywas preparing for war. He was there on March 12, 1939 when Nazi troops marched into Austria, [“The Anschlus”]. In Viennahe saw German troops goose-stepping between rows of cheering crowds. Amid all this excitement Wedemeyer and his classmates worked around the clock to keep pace with the instruction at the school. His instructors at the school included many of the major German military figures in the war including Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who planted the bomb in one of the unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Hitler, and Ferdinand Jodl, brother of the famed world war Col. general Alfred Jodl. Wedemeyer describes these crucial years in chapter 4 of his book Wedemeyer Reports! and it is no exaggeration to say that what Wedemeyer observed in Germany during those years and what he learned at the German school had a permanent influence not only on his entire career but shaped his lifelong philosophy on life, on war, and on society. Wedemeyer was only the second American to ever have attended this institution, and the only one during the critical years 1937 – 1938.

The military curriculum was totally different from what Wedemeyer had previously been exposed to both in method of teaching and content. The schedule was arduous, the students were serious, and a sense of urgency prevailed. The curriculum was designed to familiarize the students with all the modern military equipment that the Nazis had developed as well as indoctrinate them with the knowledge of battle tactics, and the command of large and small units. More importantly, they were given instruction on broader topics such as diplomacy, the causes of war, and how Grand Strategy is employed to achieve political goals. Many of these subjects were never taught at American military schools. Interestingly, there were only a few occasions when foreigners were excluded on the grounds of military security. Wedemeyer recognized the superiority of what you what he was being taught at the Kriegsakademia compared to what he had learned at West Point and at Leavenworth. The Germans were determined not to repeat the mistakes of World War I and get bogged down in trench warfare. Mobility and aggressiveness were the new concepts. Everything, the organization, doctrine, equipment, and training were all aimed at revolutionizing the tempo of the battlefield. These new tactics of mechanized warfare integrated with air power and concentrated with enormous power at a single point of attack were specifically designed to obviate the mistakes of the last war. These new tactics called “Blitzkrieg” revolutionized modern warfare. The enormous success of these new tactics is evidenced by the way that the Germans quickly overran Poland and France, and in the early years of the war, the Russian front. This particular tactic, the concentration of a large mobile force in a single spot, with support of armor and aircraft, a tactic unknown to the armies of other nations at that time, was to be one of several key recommendations of Wedemeyer when he returned to the to America and later wrote the Victory Plan. He planned to use the very same tactics that he learned at the Kriegsakademia in order to defeat the German Army.

Lessons at the German school was not limited to the classroom. Practical exercises were introduced and a good deal of instruction was in the field. They studied and visited the battlefields of many of the European wars, and read and discussed the tactics of the great generals of the past. Wedemeyer, in one exercise was given the opportunity to command a Panzer division during one maneuver. This particular exercise was invaluable to him in understanding the capabilities of the modern German tanks, and the method of deploying deployment of these tanks in conjunction with troops and aircraft. His careful notes were part of his final report and greatly influenced the American weapons planners in their own development of tanks and their proper use in battle. Wedemeyer authored several articles on armor with warfare in current military publications.

Wedemeyer also acquired a deeper and broader understanding of international affairs and some of the true causes of world tensions. The curriculum included a wide range of subjects all designed to give the students a broad understanding of the concept of the nations strategy and the long range goals of which war was only one component in the process. “Strategy” to the Germans encompassed all the tools available to a nation, including, political, economic and propaganda, which were integrated into a seamless web with a single defined goal, namely the advancement and prosperity of the nation. The Germans stressed the strategic factors in warfare, with particular emphasis on those elements which are today accepted and understood to be part of Grand Strategy. Economic factors and its power to fuel the war potential was another new concept for Wedemeyer. These new startling read revelations to Wedemeyer made a profound impact on his life time outlook and became part of his lifetime philosophy.

Participation by the military in a nations strategic outlook, was a new concept to Wedemeyer and contrary to what he had been caught atLeavenworth. Up to this time there was a long tradition in most Western nations, particularly in theUnited States, which recognized a sharp line of demarcation between the military and the political, each having its own separate and distinct role to play, with the political component having the final and ultimate say and control. Prior to World War II, in theUnited States, the politicians expected the military to “check their strategic concepts in the cloak room” before entering into any military conference discussions. World War II was to change that concept dramatically, and Wedemeyer was to ride the crest of this new wave.

A. C. Wedemeyer