By Michael Heidler
The dictation of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I weighed heavily on the new German Reichswehr. Only 100,000 men were allowed in the army. Beside the abolition of general conscription, the general staff, the war academy and all military schools, the German armaments industry suffered heavy losses from reparation claims and dismantling of the system after the lost war. The production of weapons and ammunition was strictly regulated and no new weapons develop-ments were allowed in the foreseeable future.
This situation changed in the middle of the 1920s when the number of Allied controlling commissions was considerably reduced and there-fore more room for manoeuvring remained for “confidential” activities. After the end of the reparation claims in 1931/32, the reintroduction of the general conscription followed in 1935. A four-year plan came into force on October 18, 1936, which would make the German economy ready for war within four years. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) the latest German weapons were "tested" by the Legion Condor. The progressing rearmament of the re-established army (now called Wehr-macht) brought the long desired impetus and wide state funding of many developments in the weapon sector for the armaments industry. The demand in weapons, ammunition and other military equipment was gi-gantic. Thus it is no miracle that after the occupation of Czechoslovakia and the non-violent annexation of Austria, the captured arms were soon issued to German troops and the foreign armaments industry was inte-grated immediately into the German armament programme. In Poland, the Benelux states and France the same happened.
Nevertheless, in spite of all efforts the industry did not succeed in keeping up with the steadily rising demand in weapons and ammunition. Even after the huge amount of material that was captured in Russia, a permanent lack of serviceable firearms predominated in the German armed forces.
Generally, a large number of weapons of all kinds are hidden or left behind in recently conquered and occupied areas. To collect these weapons a big personnel and temporal expenditure was required which the fighting troops (for understandable reasons) were not often able to deal with. The motivation for this activity was not particularly high with the lower echelons as it arises from various correspondences between German armed forces units and the higher departments. It was largely criticised that hostile forces could help themselves in picking up the abundant weapons lying around in woods and meadows, since the Ger-man troops in these areas did not work towards their removal.
So what could one do to obtain these weapons? The solution was to provide the motivation booster, and as is so often the case, it was money. Thus it came that on 30 April, 1942, a decree of the High Command of the Army (Oberkommando des Heeres) was announced in which the “Payment of monetary rewards to local inhabitants for the de-livery of war material” was regulated “to create thereby an increased incentive to the collecting activity.” Now for the “first-time report of not yet known weapons, ammunition or equipment” the departments could pay a reward to the finder, according to the kind of the finding of 1 im-perial mark (Reichsmark) per gun upward to 10 imperial marks for a complete piece of artillery. The limit for discovering whole camps was fixed to a maximum 100 imperial marks.
How well this system functioned in practice is unfortunately not known, but apparently this monetary measure had not brought the ex-pected success in the wide rural areas of Russia. On 28 July, 1942, the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler wrote a letter to Generalfeldmar-schall Wilhelm Keitel and presented to him the proposal to introduce a premium system, valid for the inhabitants, as well as for the German soldiers. The rural population should no longer receive money, but in their case “more useful” premiums in the form of vodka, Machorka (Russian tobacco) or a temporary reduction of the delivery-quota to the German occupation forces in the agriculture. In spite of the good basic idea, the proposal of rewards for German soldiers found little enthusiasm by GFM Keitel. He rejected the offer of prey money for his own troops in recollection of bad experiences caused by this during World War 1. Even then the offer of salvage-premiums for weapons, ammunition and equipment had not proven successful. It has been possible only behind an immobile front. With a fighting troop in action it bears the danger that the soldiers are thinking more about collecting weapons for bounty in-stead of moving forward in combat. According to Keitel’s opinion the difficulties with collecting the weapons could be overcome bit by bit anyhow. For him the capture of the harvest in the occupied east areas was the priority. The German soldiers came away empty-handed when finding weapons.
Then in the end of 1942 the changeover from the premiums of money or tobacco took place. The “Special orders for the supply and the supply-troop No. 164” from 24 November, 1942 regulated the new pay-ments of finder's rewards in the form of tobacco to the rural population. Now for a rifle there were 5 packages Machorka tobacco and for a com-plete piece of artillery 30 packages. The maximum for discovering whole camps was fixed at 200 packages to give enough incentive for a report. Instead of tobacco other “desirable real values belonging to country”, as for example vodka, of suitable size might be also delivered.
Lists of the weapons exchanged in this manner are not known, which is why nothing can be said about the acceptance in the population and the effects. But in the further process of the war the "problem" with vast amounts of captured weapons was solved in an unpleasant way – in the retreat there was not much to capture.
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