The material rearmament of the Bundeswehr in the course of its restructure 1953-1958

Reason of state, security-political necessities and foreign trade balance

Dieter H. Kollmer


When in the spring of 1955 the decision had been made that the Federal Republic of Germany would be allowed to establish armed forces in the framework of NATO, it soon became obvious that one of Bonn’s most serious problems would be the efficient procurement of equipment for the soldiers and the necessary major equipment such as tanks, fighter aircraft and warships, which were necessary for defence along the German border as soon as possible. Without doubt the Federal Government was prepared to speed up the rearmament of the armed forces within the realms of possibility, which explain the complexity of the procurement of arms in the course of restructure of the Bundeswehr. A conventional army of half a million soldiers was to be established out of nothing. This challenge led to many peculiarities and created a costly procurement system which has prevented Germany from establishing a military-industrial complex like the USA to this day. The rearmament of Germany’s armed forces of the 1950ies was influenced by several external factors which very often led to not very good results in procurement. The reason of state of providing NATO with about 500.000 equipped and trained soldiers for the defence along the German border as soon as possible, the security-political demands of the North-Atlantic Alliance which found expression in fundamental changes in the defence strategy, and the balance of foreign trade with European allies resulted in the fact that the rearmament of the Bundeswehr took up more time and budget than had been necessary. This special case illustrates the difficulties of a democracy to focus its strength on a national politically relevant objective. In the 1950ies the Federal Government failed to win the economic powers of West Germany over to this important challenge. Private enterprise pursuit of profit and the preservation of a fragile social equilibrium were top priorities at that time. Establishing an instrument for defending these achievements was not considered a very pressing issue neither by the executives of the German economy nor by the employee representatives. Fortunately, the „balance of fright“ went so well already that even the uprising of the 17th June 1953 in the GDR, the Suez Crisis and the Hungary Revolt of 1956 passed without any perceptible dangers for the continued existence of the Federal Republic of Germany. Especially due to the support by the USA and the integration into NATO structures West Germany succeeded in basically concluding the establishment of the Bundeswehr in 1963, but the three years demanded by NATO had finally become eight years.