Helmut Schmidt was the first social democrat to become Federal Minister of Defence. He succeeded in the early seventies to adapt the Bundeswehr to the new threat situation.
Helmut Schmidt (Source: Bundeswehr)Größere Abbildung anzeigen
Schmidt was born the son of a grammar school teacher in Hamburg on 23 December 1918. Before the World War II, he graduated from a Hamburg grammar school and attained the Abitur (German university entrance qualification). Shortly before the end of war, he was put into a British prisoner-of-war camp.
After his release, he took up studies in economics and political science, and graduated as a Master of Economics in 1949. Helmut Schmidt had been a member of the SPD since 1946, and in 1953 he was elected to the second German Bundestag. There, he quickly became his partys military expert.
In the early 1960s, however, Schmidt left federal politics to become the senator responsible for interior affairs of the city-state of Hamburg. It was in this capacity that he directed the rescue operations during the flood disaster in Hamburg in 1962. His energetic and circumspect action established his reputation as a successful crisis manager.
On 21 September 1969, Helmut Schmidt was appointed Federal Minister of Defence in the first social-liberal cabinet headed by Chancellor Willy Brandt.
His tasks included the realignment of the Bundeswehr in the framework of NATO's new flexible response strategy, which had already been initiated by his predecessor Gerhard Schröder. His term in office was also marked by the restructuring of training in the Bundeswehr and the reduction of compulsory military service from 18 to 15 months.
In 1972, Schmidt became Federal Minister of Economics and Finance and, after Willy Brandt resigned in the wake of the "Guillaume Affair", he was elected the fifth Federal Chancellor on 16 May 1972.
In the years that followed, the Federal government under Schmidt's leadership had to cope with a wave of terrorist actions of the so-called Red Army Faction (RAF), which culminated in the kidnapping and murder of the President of the Employers' Association, Hans-Martin Schleyer, in October 1977.
As of 1979, Chancellor Schmidt supported NATO's double-track decision on the deployment of NATO missiles and thus came into conflict with his party. On 1 October 1982, he was voted out of office as a result of a constructive vote of no-confidence.
After having left office, Helmut Schmidt worked as manager and co-editor of the weekly "Die Zeit". The Bundeswehr University in Hamburg has been bearing his name sind 16 December 2003.