[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Technical Manual, TM-E 30-451: Handbook on German Military Forces published in March 1945. — Figures and illustrations are not reproduced, see source details. — As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. — Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]
CHAPTER I. THE GERMAN MILITARY SYSTEM
Section III. THE HIGH COMMAND
The basic principle under the German military system is unity of command. This principle is exemplified in the highest as well as the lower echelons. Under this system the Army, Navy, and Air Force are regarded as branches of a single service (Die Wehrmacht), headed by the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW)(1).[See Section 4 for an explanation of the use of these numbers.] The OKW controls all matters of inter-service policy in both peace and war. It is responsible for all preparation for national defense in time of peace, and for the conduct of operations in time of war. The head of the OKW is a cabinet member and represents the joint interest of the three branches with respect to other departments of the Government.
In effect, therefore, the German High Command is divided into four parts, as follows: Armed Forces High Command—Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW)(2); Army High Command—Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH)(3); Navy High Command—Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine (OKM)(3); Air Force High Command—Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL)(4).
Under this system it is not unusual in a task force for units of one branch of the Armed Forces to come under the immediate command of another branch. All personnel may be transferred from one branch to another in the same or equivalent rank. This, in fact, has been done on a very considerable scale in 1943 and 1944, with a transfer of thousands of members of the Air Force and Navy to the Army.
The OKW is supreme and responsible for the coordination of the active war effort by the three subordinate branches, while the OKH is responsible for all purely Army matters, just as each of the other two High Commands is responsible for the application of general policies within its own sphere.
In wartime, each High Command has a forward echelon (1. Staffel)(5) and a rear echelon (2. Staffel). The forward echelon moves to a location appropriate to the theater of main operations, while the rear echelon remains in Berlin. (Almost all elements of the rear echelon were evacuated from Berlin beginning in October 1943.) The object of this division is to insure that all purely routine and administrative matters will be handled in the rear and not obtrude themselves into the actual conduct of operations by the forward headquarters.
There is a fairly standardized method of indicating the relative size and importance of the various subdivisions within a high command. In descending order, these units with the accepted translations used in this book are:
In general (with some exceptions) an Amt or Amtsgruppe is headed by a general officer and an Abteilung by a field officer.
However, these subdivisions are not necessarily subordinate to one another schematically; i.e., the channel downward from an Amt may skip Amtsgruppe and go direct to Abteilung or even to Referat.
The following description gives the nomenclature and function of only the more important subdivisions of the Armed Forces High Command (OKW) and the Army High Command (OKH). All the German abbreviations used are explained in a glossary at the end of the section. It should be noted that this is the organization existing at the beginning of 1945, and that under present circumstances the High Command, like all other aspects of the German Armed Forces, is subject to rapid and unforeseen changes.
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