Following the war, Fritsch continued as a staff officer, including service with General Rudiger von der Goltz in the Baltics. He became part of the Reichswehr Ministry in 1920, there attracting the attention of German army commander General Hans von Seeckt. Commander of a battalion of the 5th Artillery Regiment in 1922, Fritsch was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1923. He served as chief of staff to the 1st Division at Königsberg from 1924 to 1926 until he became director of operations in the Truppenamt (the disguised General Staff). Fritsch was promoted to colonel in 1927; to Generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general) in 1930, when he took command of the lst Cavalry Division; and to Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) in October 1932 as commander of Wehrkreis III, the Berlin area military district.
On 1 February 1934, Fritsch was advanced to general of artillery when he became commander in chief of the army. He was promoted to colonel general in April 1936. Fritsch was not Adolf Hitler's choice; aging President Paul von Hindenburg selected him. Fritsch strengthened and expanded the army, but being far more cautious than Hitler, he sought to avoid conflict with Britain and France. He made no effort to conceal his disdain for the Nazis, the Schutzstaffel (SS, bodyguard units), and even Hitler. Fritsch had only limited contact with Hitler; he had no right of direct access, and meetings with the Führer were usually in the company of Minister of War Field Marshal (from April 1936) Werner von Blomberg.
When in November 1937 Hitler laid out his plans for further territorial expansion, Fritsch and Minister of War General Blomberg expressed their opposition. By this time, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich were all actively plotting to remove Blomberg and Fritsch. Blomberg was forced to resign in January 1938. This left the honorable and respected Fritsch as the remaining obstacle to Hitler's control of the army.
Himmler then trumped up charges of homosexuality against Fritsch, who did not help his case by remaining silently indignant as opposed to mounting a vigorous defense of his innocence. Fritsch chose to resign and demanded a court-martial. With Blomberg and Fritsch removed, Hitler then created the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Armed Forces) to replace the former War Ministry. Hitler became commander in chief of the armed forces and appointed the more pliable General Walther von Brauchitsch as new commander of the army.
Fritsch finally received his desired military court hearing and was acquitted on 18 March 1938, with witnesses confirming that he had been framed. Formal rehabilitation came on 18 August 1938, with reinstatement of his rank of colonel general and an appointment as honorary colonel in chief of his old unit, the 12th Artillery Regiment. Fritsch accompanied his old regiment during the Polish campaign. He died on 22 September 1939 from a bullet wound as his unit was approaching Praga, a suburb of Warsaw. Rumors that he deliberately sought death or was murdered by the SS have since been discounted.
Jon D. Berlin and Spencer C. Tucker
Kielmansegg, Johann Adolf. Der Fritschprozess, 1938: Ablauf und Hintergründe. Hamburg, Germany: Hoffmann and Campe, 1949.; O'Neill, Robert. "Fritsch, Beck and the Führer," In Correlli Barnett, ed., Hitler's Generals, 19–42. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1989.; Research Institute for Military History. Germany and the Second World War. Vol. 1, The Build-Up of German Aggression. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1990.; Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics, 1918–1945. London: St. Martin's Press, 1953.