14. German rearmament preceded Hitler’s accession to power
Between 1918 and 1933, under the government of the Weimar Republic, the German military, supported by the federal government, began rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The goal of the federal government was the creation of paramilitary organizations which could be rapidly absorbed into the army in case of national emergency. One of the reasons the government did not suppress the development of paramilitary organizations such as the SA, the SS, and the KPD, was the recognition that such forces could become part of a national army in the event of another war. After Hitler came to power in 1933 he made the rearming of Germany, already well underway, an open secret. Rearming became the government’s highest priority, both to enhance German prestige and to combat the Great Depression, then taking jobs from the German economy.
During the 1930s the rearmament of Germany led the German economy into near full employment. Jobs which were plentiful and which paid well enhanced the position of the Nazis in power, as well as helped create a revitalized Germany. By 1935, when the expanding German military strength was well known, Hitler revived conscription in Germany. That same year the British and Germans agreed to a new naval treaty which allowed the German fleet to expand to 35% of the tonnage of the British fleet, which exceeded the limitations imposed by the Versailles Treaty, and which was reached without the approval of England’s French ally. Germany had already begun construction of a new U-Boat fleet, which began to deploy in 1935, another violation of the Versailles Treaty. Britain chose to follow the path of accepting German rearmament under agreed limitations, rather than oppose it vigorously.