Posts Tagged ‘freekorps’

Scenes of the Kapp-Putsch and Märzkämpfe 1920 in Berlin [Scenes of the Kapp Putsch and March fighting in Berlin]

“The officers were particularly sensitive to the danger posed by Allied demands that ‘war criminals’ were to be extradited. They informed Noske of this on 26 July 1919,3 and he supported them unreservedly. But the blast of discontent and ill-feeling which these demands provoked was soon supplemented by the return of the Free Corps who had since 1919 been fighting the Red Army in the Baltic states, and who the Allies had insisted must be withdrawn, having made sure that they would be replaced. In the front rank of the military men, who were thinking more and more in terms of staging a putsch, stood General von Lüttwitz, the officer commanding the armed forces in Berlin, who saw himself as the successor to Hindenburg and the guardian of the traditions and the honour of the army.

The fate of the Free Corps was not the only source of anxiety. The reduction in the size of the forces, which the peace treaty imposed, concerned all ranks of the military. If the élite troops were dissolved, the fate of a substantial part of the military establishment would be settled by the same stroke. The naval brigade led by Captain Ehrhardt, who was based in Doberitz, at the gates of Berlin, was to serve as a test case. General von Lüttwitz assured its leader that he would not permit that ‘in such a stormy period such a force should be broken up’. He criticised the ‘weakness’ of the government in the face of the ‘Bolshevik menace’, and talked openly about a coup d’état. The Berlin police chief, Colonel Arens, tried to dissuade him by arranging an interview with him and the leaders of the right wing in parliament.

The Right was campaigning for the National Assembly to be dissolved and for a new election to the presidency of the Republic, but did not manage to convince him that his projects were imprudent. The General believed only in the strength of his battalions, and thought that the elections would go all the better if he had swept the politicians away beforehand. So he embarked on a conspiracy, the principal figures in which, alongside him, were Ehrhardt, Ludendorff and a civilian named Wolfgang Kapp, the director of agriculture in Prussia, who represented the junkers and highly-placed imperial civil servants. It was a risky enterprise, either premature or too late; the authorities knew nearly everything about it, but it had the advantage of having accomplices in all the key state positions.

The Cabinet met on 12 March. It examined the situation, and postponed the necessary decisions to its meeting on the 15th.That same day, however Noske issued warrants for the arrest of the most conspicuous conspirators, such as Captain Pabst. General von Lüttwitz was forced back onto the defensive, and withdrew to the camp in Doberitz. The senior officer whom Noske had entrusted with security at the camp telephoned to say that von Lüttwitz had arrived, and returned with the assurance that all was calm. That same night, the Ehrhardt brigade set off to march towards the centre of Berlin.

The insurgents issued an ultimatum which called for Ebert to be dismissed, for the Reichstag to be dissolved and new elections to be held, and, in the meantime, a cabinet of technicians to be established with a general at the War Ministry. Noske called a meeting of the military chiefs who were not involved in the plot, in his office at 1.30am, and received the reply that there was no question of armed resistance being organised. The Council of Ministers met at three o’clock, and finally decided to evacuate the capital, leaving only two of its members behind, one of whom was Vice-Chancellor Schiffer. Before dawn, nearly all the government and over 200 deputies were on the road to Dresden, where they hoped to find protection with General Maercker.

In the early hours of the morning, Ehrhardt’s men occupied Berlin, and flew the Imperial flag on the public buildings. Kapp was installed in the Chancellery, and he issued his first decrees, proclaiming a state of siege, suspending all newspapers, and appointing General von Lüttwitz as commander-in-chief. By midday he could believe that all the military headquarters and all the police forces in the Berlin military region had joined his enterprise. The members of the government were not happy about the attitude of General Maercker, and took to the road again, this time towards Stuttgart, where they thought that they could count on General Bergmann. By the evening of the 13th, it seemed that the putsch had succeeded without bloodshed, because nowhere had either the army or the police showed signs of opposing it, and the authorities in the north and east had recognised the new government.”

– Pierre Broue, The German Revolution, 1917-1923. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006, pp. 351-353.

Topmost photograph: “Soldaten der Marinebrigade Ehrhardt hissen die Kriegsflagge des Kaiserreichs mit den Farben Schwarz-Weiß-Rot.” Bundesarchiv, Bild 119-1983-0021.

Top two photographs are left:  Hermann Ehrhardt during the Kapp Putsch, Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-037-42 and right: Gustav Noske & Walter Lüttwitz, “Der sozialdemokratische Reichswehrminister Gustav Noske – er hatte diese Funktion von 1919 bis März 1920 inne – im Gespräch mit General von Lüttwitz.” (Aufn.: um 1920), Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-0718-501.   

Next four photographs are postcards showing 1) troops and armoured train entering Berlin during the Putsch; 2 & 3) troops of the Kapp regime occupying Potsdamer Platz; 4) machine gunners taking position during the March 1920 fighting in Berlin caused by the Putsch.

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