The Bundeswehr which translates into "Federal Defence Force" or commonly abbreviated as BW; is the unified armed forces of West Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities. The individual states of Germany were not allowed to maintain armed forces of their own, since the German Constitution stated that matters of defense fell into the sole responsibility of the federal government.
The Bundeswehr is divided into a military portion the armed forces classified as 'Streitkräfte' and a civil portion consisting of the armed forces administration 'Wehrverwaltung'. The military part of the federal defense force consists of three organizations the Army (Heer), Navy (Marine), & Air Force (Luftwaffe) respectively.
Prior to the establishment of the Bundeswehr, Germany had several notable military organisations such as the old German state armies, the Reichswehr which existed during the years of the Weimar Republic from 1921–1935 and the more notorious Wehrmacht which were the armed forces of the Third Reich from 1935 through the end of the Second World War in 1945. In respects to these organizations the Bundeswehr, however, does not consider itself as their successor and does not follow the traditions of any former German military organizations. The official Bundeswehr traditions are based along three major lines primarily the classical Prussian military reformers of the 19th century such as Gerhard von Scharnhorst (12 November 1755 – 28 June 1813), August Neidhardt von Gneisenau (27 October 1760 – 23 August 1831), and Carl von Clausewitz (July 1, 1780 – November 16, 1831) as well as the members of the military resistance against Adolf Hitler in World War II such as Erwin Rommel (15 November 1891 – 14 October 1944), Claus von Stauffenberg (15 November 1907 – 21 July 1944) and Henning von Tresckow (January 10, 1901 – July 21, 1944) and its own tradition since it's formation in 1955.
As its official symbol the Bundeswehr adopted a form of the traditional Prussian Iron Cross. The Iron Cross or 'Eisernes Kreuz' as it is known in German has a long history, having been awarded as a military wartime decoration for all ranks of the German armed forces since it's creation by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. Wilhelm first awarded the Iron Cross distinction during the Napoleonic Wars on 10 March 1813. The Iron Cross can trace it's lineage further back to association with the Teutonic Knights during the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1219. The name Bundeswehr itself was proposed by a former Wehrmacht general who became a liberal politician who became a proponent for military rearmament of Germany in his post war years; Hasso von Manteuffel (14 January 1897 – 24 September 1978).
One of the most visible traditions is the Großer Zapfenstreich, a form of military tattoo that goes back to the landsknecht era when colorful bands of mercenaries of German and Swiss origins became a prominent force in early modern Europe. Another expression of the traditions in the West German Bundeswehr is the ceremonial vow known as 'Gelöbnis' sworn by recruits during basic training. The tradition is upheld annually on July 20, a date significant to modern German history as it is the date of the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler by Wehrmacht officers in 1944. The wording of the ceremonial vow of conscripts was and still is:
"I pledge to serve the Federal Republic of Germany loyally and to defend the right and the freedom of the German people bravely."
"Ich gelobe, der Bundesrepublik Deutschland treu zu dienen und das Recht und die Freiheit des deutschen Volkes tapfer zu verteidigen."
Professional soldiers and officers of the Bundeswehr have to swear an oath with the same words, but beginning with "Ich schwöre, ..." ("I vow to...").
After the end of World War II with the defeat of Nazi Germany, the responsibility for the security of Germany as a whole rested upon the four victorious Allied Powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union. Germany had been left without a standing armed forces since the Wehrmacht was officially dissolved and abolished on 20 August 1946. When the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949, it was without a military force. Germany remained completely demilitarized and any plans for a German military were forbidden by Allied regulations. Only some naval mine-sweeping units remnants of the vanquished Kriegsmarine had continued to exist, but unarmed and under an Allied control commission, they were not considered as a national defence force. Even the Border Guards were only established in 1951. A proposal to integrate West German troops with soldiers of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy in a European Defence Community was proposed by lawmakers but never implemented.
As the 1940s came to a close there were detailed discussions between the United States, the United Kingdom and France over the issue of a revived West German military. In particular, France was reluctant to allow Germany to rearm in light of the two nations turmultuous recent history (Germany had invaded France twice in living memory, in 1914 living up to treaty obligations during World War I and then again in 1940 during World War II. Germany had also defeated France in the Franco-German War of 1870 - 1871. However, after the project for a European Defence Community failed to garner support in the French National Assembly in 1954, France finally reached an agreement on the issue of West German accession to NATO and it's rearmament.
With growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the West, especially following the Korean War 1950-1953, this policy was to be revised. While the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was already secretly rearming, the seeds of a new West German force started in 1950 when former high-ranking German officers of the abolished Wehrmacht were tasked by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (5 January 1876 – 19 April 1967) to discuss the different options for West German rearmament. The results of a meeting in the monastery of Himmerod formed the conceptual base to build the new armed forces in West Germany. The Amt Blank (Blank Agency, named after its director Theodor Blank), the predecessor of the later Federal Ministry of Defense, was formed the same year to prepare the establishment of the future forces. Hasso von Manteuffel, a former general of the Wehrmacht and liberal politician, submitted the name Bundeswehr for the new forces. This name was later confirmed by the West German Bundestag. After an amendment of the Basic Law in 1955, West Germany officially joined and was accepted as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance on 9 May 1955.
The Bundeswehr was officially established on the 200th birthday of General Gerhard von Scharnhorst on 12 November 1955 with the first soldiers of the new German Army reporting for duty in Andernach. In personnel and education terms, the most important initial feature of the new German armed forces was to be their orientation as citizen soldiers tasked with the defense of a democratic state, fully subordinate to the political leadership of the country. A personnel screening committee was created to make sure that the future colonels and generals of the armed forces were those whose political attitude and experience would be acceptable to the new democratic state. Barred from enlistment and service in the new military were anyone who held views sympathetic to the previous regime or who had served in radical organizations such as the Waffen SS which had been outlawed with the defeat of the Nazis. There were a few key reformers, such as General Ulrich de Maiziere (24 February 1912 – 26 August 2006), General Graf von Kielmansegg (30 December 1906 - 26 May 2006), and Graf von Baudissin (8 May 1907 – 5 June 1993), who developed such concepts as Innere Führung which officially translates as "leadership development and civic education" and Staatsbürger in Uniform literally "citizens in uniform". They reemphasised some of the more democratic parts of Germany’s armed forces history in order to establish a solid civil-military basis to build upon.
The first public military review took place at Andernach, in January 1956. A U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) helped with the introduction of the Bundeswehr's initial equipment and war material, predominantly of American and British origin. In 1956, conscription for all men between the ages of 18 and 45 was reintroduced, later augmented by a civil alternative with longer duration Wehrdienst (Military Service) or Zivildienst (Civil Service) respectively. In response to West German rearmament and the official establishment of the Bundeswehr in 1955, East Germany followed suit and formed its own military force, the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA), in 1956. Unlike the West, East Germany only reinstated conscription into the Armed Forces in 1962.
During the Cold War, the Bundeswehr was to serve as the backbone of NATO's conventional defense in Central Europe. It had a strength of 495,000 military and nearly 170,000 civilian personnel. The Heer or land forces contingent consisted of three corps with 12 divisions, most of them heavily armed with main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces. The Luftwaffe was equipped with significant numbers of sophisticated tactical combat aircraft and took part in NATO's integrated air defence (NATINAD) network. The Bundesmarine was tasked and equipped to defend the Baltic Approaches, to provide escort reinforcement and resupply shipping in the North Sea and to contain the Soviet Baltic Fleet.
During this time the Bundeswehr did not take part in offensive combat operations. However there were a number of large-scale training and operational casualties. The first such incident was in June 1957, when fifteen paratroop recruits were ordered to cross the rain swollen Iller River near Ulm, Bavaria and were subsequently swept away and drowned in the swirling waters.
After reunification of Germany in 1990, the Bundeswehr was reduced to 370,000 military personnel in accordance with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany between the two German governments and the Allies (2+4 Treaty). The former East German Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) was disbanded, with a portion of its personnel and material being absorbed into the Bundeswehr.
About 50,000 Nationale Volksarmee personnel were integrated into the Bundeswehr on 2 October 1990. This figure was rapidly reduced as conscripts and short-term volunteers completed their service. A number of senior officers however no generals or admirals received limited contracts for up to two years to continue daily operations. Personnel remaining in the Bundeswehr were awarded new contracts and new ranks, dependent on their individual qualification and experience. Many received and accepted a lower rank than previously held in the East German NVA.
In general, the unification process of the two militaries—under the slogan "Armee der Einheit" or "Army of Unity" has been seen publicly as a major success and an example for other parts of the society.
With the reduction, a large amount of the military hardware of the Bundeswehr, as well as of the National Volksarmee, had to be disposed of. Most of the armored vehicles and fighter jet aircraft were dismantled under international disarmament procedures. Many ships were scrapped or sold, often to the Baltic states or Indonesia (the latter received 39 former Volksmarine vessels of various types).