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The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) (English: "Supreme Command of the Armed Forces") was part of the command structure of the armed forces (Wehrmacht) of Nazi Germany during World War II. Created in 1938, the OKW had nominal oversight over the army, navy and Luftwaffe. Rivalry with the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH) prevented the OKW from becoming a unified general staff. However it did coordinate operations among the three services. During the war the OKW, with Hitler in personal command, acquired more and more operational powers. By 1942 OKW had responsibility for all theaters except for the Eastern Front against the USSR. Hitler manipulated the bipolar system to keep ultimate decisions in his own hands.
The OKW was formed on 4 February 1938 following the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, which led to the dismissal of Generalfeldmarschall (and Reich War Minister) Werner von Blomberg and the dissolution of the Reichskriegsministerium (Reich War Ministry). The OKW replaced the War Ministry. The appointments made to the OKW and the motive behind the reorganization are commonly thought to be Adolf Hitler's desire to consolidate power and authority around his position as Führer and Reich Chancellor (Führer und Reichskanzler), to the detriment of the military leadership of the Wehrmacht.
By June 1938, the OKW comprised four departments:
The WFA replaced the Wehrmachtsamt (Armed Forces Office) which existed between 1935 and 1938. During this time Wilhelm Keitel had headed the ministry and Hitler promoted Keitel to head OKW under the title Chef des OKW, or Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces. As head of the WFA, Keitel appointed Max von Viebahn although after two months he was removed from command, and this post was not refilled until the promotion of Alfred Jodl. To replace Jodl at Abteilung Landesverteidigungsführungsamt (WFA/L), Walther Warlimont was appointed.
The WFA was renamed as the Wehrmachtführungsstab (Wfst) in August 1940. In December 1941 further changes took place with Abteilung Landesverteidigungsführungsamt (WFA/L) being merged into the Wehrmacht-Führungsamt and losing its role as a subordinate organization. These changes were largely cosmetic however as key staff remained in post and continued to fulfill the same duties.
The OKW directed the operations of the German Armed Forces during World War II. The OKW was almost always represented at daily situation conferences (Lagevorträge) by Jodl, Keitel, and the officer serving as Hitler's adjutant. During these conferences situation reports prepared by the head of WFA/L would be delivered to Hitler and then discussed. Following these discussions, Hitler would issue further operational orders. These orders were then relayed back to WFA/L by Jodl along with the minutes of the meeting. These would then be converted into orders for issuance to the appropriate commanders.
In theory, the OKW served as the military general staff for the Third Reich, coordinating the efforts of the Army, Navy, and Air Force (Heer, Kriegsmarine, and Luftwaffe). In practice, the OKW acted as Hitler's personal military staff, translating his ideas into military orders, and issuing them to the three services while having little control over them. However, as the war progressed the OKW found itself exercising increasing amounts of direct command authority over military units, particularly in the West. This created a situation such that by 1942 the OKW held the de facto command of Western forces while the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres) (OKH) exercised de facto command of the Eastern Front. It was not until 28 April 1945 (two days before his suicide) that Hitler placed OKH under OKW, giving OKW command of forces on the Eastern Front.
Setting different parts of the Nazi bureaucracy to compete for his favor in areas where their administration overlapped was a standard tactic employed by Hitler to reinforce his authority; and just as in other areas of government, there was a rivalry between the OKW and the OKH. Since most German operations during World War II were Army controlled (with Luftwaffe support), the OKH demanded control over German military forces. Nevertheless, Hitler decided against the OKH and in favor of the OKW overseeing operations in many land theaters. As the war progressed more and more influence moved from the OKH to the OKW, with Norway being the first "OKW war theater". More and more areas came under complete control of the OKW. Finally only the Eastern Front remained the domain of the OKH. However, as the Eastern Front was by far the primary battlefield of the German military, the OKH was still influential, particularly as Hitler was commander-in-chief of the OKH (Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres) from December 1941 until his suicide on 30 April 1945.
The OKW ran military operations on the Western front, in North Africa, and in Italy. In the west operations were further split between the OKW and Oberbefehlshaber West (OBW, Commander in Chief West), who was Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt (succeeded by Field Marshal Günther von Kluge).
There was even more fragmentation since the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe operations had their own commands (Oberkommando der Marine (OKM) and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL)) which, while theoretically subordinate, were largely independent from the OKW or the OBW.
During the entire period of the war, the OKW was led by Keitel, who reported directly to Hitler, from whom most operational orders actually originated as Oberster Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht (Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces).
Albrecht von Hagen, a member of the failed assassination attempt on Hitler on 20 July 1944, was stationed here to be responsible for the courier service between military posts in Berlin and Hitler's secret military headquarters known as the Wolf's Lair.
The OKW was indicted but acquitted of being a criminal organization during the Nuremberg Trials. Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl however were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Jodl was posthumously acquitted of the main charges against him in 1952, six years after the sentence was carried out.