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The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month: The Continuing Legacy of the Armistice of World War One

“Armistice Day is a constant reminder that we won a war and lost a peace.” General Omar Bradley

Germany was in pre-revolutionary turmoil. The High Command of the Army had told Kaiser Wilhelm II that military resistance was no longer possible and that the Army would not follow him back to Germany to put down the revolutionaries.

After four long years of war in which around 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians were killed and another 20 million wounded the guns fell silent. In the end it was also the end of an era. It was then end of empires. The Russian Empire had collapsed in 1917 and been initially been replaced by a republic and then by a Soviet State and Czar Nicholas II and his family became victims of the revolutionary violence. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and in its place a hodge-podge of new states as well as liberated areas came into existence. The Ottoman Empire was carved up with its various parts being granted “independence” by the allies under the leadership of tribal leaders supported by the French or British.

Britain survived the war but not without crisis due to the massive losses in manpower and economic losses sustained during the war. France nearly fell in 1917 when the Army, demoralized by the unrelenting losses of years of brutal warfare mutinied. Belgium was devastated as was much of northern and eastern France.

Most surprisingly Imperial Germany collapsed. After knocking Russia out of the war in 1917 the Germans attempted a knockout punch against France. The offensive, code named Michael was successful at first and nearly succeeded, but in the end ran up against obstacles that could not be overcome, including the arrival of a massive and still fresh American Expeditionary Force. By the summer the tide had changed and the allies were on the offensive and threatening to break through the now vulnerable German lines. At home revolution was in the air, fed by the starvation of the German people and rising unrest units of the High Seas Fleet mutinied, as did units of the Army stationed in Germany proper. Workers and Soldiers Soviets took control of local and state governments.  Finally with everything on the line the Kaiser left Berlin to meet with his High Command at their headquarters in Spa, Belgium.

It was in Spa that the Kaiser found out that his reign was over. On November 9th General Wilhelm Groener, the Quartermaster General and the de-facto second in command of the Army told the Kaiser that the Army no longer supported him. It was a seminal moment. The Kaiser abdicated his throne and to prevent a communist takeover the leadership of the Social Democratic party proclaimed a republic that day. Hurried negotiations between the Socialists and the Army produced an alliance which averted the threatened Soviet takeover, but also doomed the new Weimar Republic. A hated state, it was blamed by monarchists and other conservatives for the German defeat and the humiliation of Versailles and hated by the communists, who viewed it as illegitimate.

The Germans send a peace delegation to France which agreed to the armistice at about  5 AM on November 11th which stipulated that hostilities were to cease at 1100. The firing stopped and German troops withdrew to a nation totally unprepared for defeat. The allies maintained their naval blockade of German ports until the Treaty of Versailles was signed the following year, wracked by starvation, the great Influenza epidemic, economic collapse and civil war Germany never came to terms with its defeat. Eventually, a crippled Weimar Republic would fall in 1933. Adolf Hitler , a decorated veteran of the war in the trenches became Chancellor and and with an year the undisputed dictator of Germany in 1934.

During the interregnum between the wars the victors cobbled together states from the the former empires. Borders were drawn without respect to racial, tribal or religious divisions. The victors, particularly the British, French and Italians expanded their overseas empires at the expense of the former empires and the newly acquired lands.

The war that was to end all wars only brought about another even more bloody war that would end with the dropping of Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan in August 1945. Hitler, who led Germany to ruin died by his own hand in his bunker. The remnants of empires that had not collapsed in the immediate aftermath of the First World War did not survive the second. By the 1970s most of the former colonies of the great empires were independent, but not necessarily free. Tribal and religious conflicts as well as genocide followed in Africa and Asia. A “Cold War” between the former allies of the Second World War followed, only ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th 1989, which was exactly 71 years to the day that Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated his throne.

Today, though it is nearly a century later the ramifications of that war, a war that was “to end all wars” are still with us. War and more revolution threatens in the Middle East even as former colonies wracked by tribal, religious or ethnic divisions within their artificially drawn boundaries continue to implode. Europe, buoyed by the hope of economic integration following the end of the Cold War is again being torn apart by ethnic and nationalist divisions as the Euro crisis deepened.

On November 11th 1918 few thought that the end of that war would still be felt today. After all, it was the “war to end all wars.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Real Danger of Revolution and Violence in our Country

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party a Revolution is Coming

Since the economic crash of 2008 the United States has been in turmoil. The Republican administration of George Bush had made itself so unpopular that the Democrats led by the young and inexperienced Barak Obama took control of the White House and both houses of Congress.  However the new administration and its allies in Congress did nothing to help their cause promoting health care reform instead of addressing serious problems in the economy, especially unemployment. As the Obama administration floundered in its response to the economy and remained mired in the increasingly unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistana new political force came into being. This was the Tea Party movement a collection of social and economic conservatives, libertarians and other conservative groups backed by major business leaders and promoted by the Fox New Channel.

The Tea Party grew in prominence in the Republican Party at the local and state levels mobilizing voters as it took advantage of the discontent and fear felt by many conservatives.  The movement featured many patriotic images and some within the Tea Party used militant language to describe their goals including that of revolution to retake the power of government.  Liberal opponents likened the Tea Party to Nazis and today some Tea Party back members of Congress and Presidential candidates refer to the Occupy Wall Street protestors as anarchist and communists.

The Obama administration and many on the left dismissed the movement but by the 2010 mid term elections the Tea Party and their backers spearheaded the Republican taking of the House and nearly regained control of the Senate. Typically divided government has forced parties to work together and compromise to achieve their goals.  That did not happen in 2010. The Tea Party forced the hand of Republican leadership not to compromise with President Obama and the Democrats.  The near shutdown of the government in June only served to worsen the division.

The Tea Party mow distrusts many established Republican leaders as much as it despises the Democrats and as the division continued to grow a new movement came into being, the Occupy Wall Street campaign.  The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began in September and were ignored by most of the media, just as the media outside of Fox News ignored or downplayed the incipient Tea Party in 2009. Now the demonstrations continue to gain strength and have spread to close to 90 cities.  Organizers and some commentators are referring to the movement as “the American Spring.”

However the Occupy Wall Street movement is quite diverse from those protesting many of the same things that the Tea Party stands against to those with a harder and revolutionary edge.  While the movement itself is somewhat amorphous and appears to be unclear on its goals the PR head of the movement commented in one interview that the goal is to “overthrow the government.” Other protestors carried an effigy of the head of the CEO of Bank of America on a pike in one demonstration. Still others have simply become a nuisance to those that live and work in the area of their protests.   Such statements and actions give their opponents like Glenn Beck all the ammunition that they need to demonize the protestors as Beck did today when he said “Capitalists, if you think that you can play footsies with these people, you’re wrong. They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you…they’re Marxist radicals…these guys are worse than Robespierre from the French Revolution…they’ll kill everybody.” Beck also suggested that the only way to stop the movement was a “forceful crushing from the top” which he compared to Hitler’s “Night of the Long Knives.”

Even the President has called his political opponents “enemies” and they have responded in kind. Of course Obama has been called everything but an American since he was elected by some on the right and many in his own party believe that he is nothing more than a pawn of business and the establishment.

Both the Presidency and the Congress suffer from the fact that most people no longer believe a word that they say and this is shown in their approval ratings which are abysmal.  President Bush’s second term approval rating averaged just 37% and had a low of 25%.  President Obama initially had high approval ratings but his ratings have spun downward to the point that they are hovering at or below 40.  Congress is even worse with all polls below 20 approval rating and the CBS poll is down to 11%, the lowest ever recorded.

Tea Party Message Rockford Illinois 

Is it any wonder that people in the Tea Party andOccupy Wall Street are bringing their own variety of revolution to the nation?  The economy is in tatters and long term unemployment at highs not seen since the Great Depression. The country is deeply divided on religious and social issues, the role ad purpose of government and the majority of people we believe that we have lost the wars inIraqandAfghanistan.  This is a toxic and dangerous environment where it will not take much to bring about violence.

While many on the right and the left seek to frame the members of the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street in the most demonic ways that they can and fan the flames of hatred it is important to take a step back and see both movements in their current and historical context.  The temptation is to get caught up in the emotion of these “revolutionary” movements and proceed down the revolutionary way without thinking of the consequences of revolutions. Revolutions are inherently unpredictable and often bring unintended and sometimes tragic results.  Both movements have valid points and Washington, Wall Street and our political, media and business elites better wake up. Both have many good and law abiding people in them but both also have a people that would do everything that they can do in order to bring about change, if not at the ballot box on the streets.

During revolutionary times those on the extremes gain prominence and their movements grow most often at the cost of the middle. When the center disappears there is little to stop whichever side comes out on top from doing whatever they want.  The winners also have their losers as the most powerful or organized parties within a movement tend to crush opposition within their own ranks once they take power.

Spartacus League fighters in the German Revolution: Coming here? 

Unlike some I do not venture to have an answer for the long term ills of the country but I do not think revolution from the left or right is the way to solve them.  Revolutions tend to be rather messy and bloody affairs and as the rhetoric on the left and the right continues to escalate as the economic and world situation worsens the danger of armed conflict in this country grows greater every day.  In fact there are foreign powers such asIranthat are reveling in such a possibility with others quietly doing so.  Unfortunately I do not think that many people on either side of the divide see the danger looming in our future.

That is what scares me about the revolutionary rhetoric that is that things can spiral out of control when groups are massed on the street. Agitators from any side can create events that precipitate violence on the part of the demonstrators or the police and security forces.  Once in power revolutionaries frequently kill or exile members of their own parties as Hitler did with when he liquidated the leadership of his  SA Brown Shirts on the Night of the Long Knives.

This is a dangerous time and I do pray that our political leaders will regain their collective sanity before all hell breaks loose.  I re-posted a paper about the German Revolution of 1919-1922 in my last post to show some of the unpredictable ways revolutions can develop. You can read it below.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Current American Crisis and Drawing Comparisons from the End of the Imperial Germany

Revolution: Members of the Spartacists Bund in Berlin

Introduction

There are times when great nations face catastrophe. It is something that has befallen every world power at one time or another. Therefore it should not be a surprise if the United States despite the claims of those supporting American Exceptionalism succumbs to some great crisis which fundamentally changes it.  While I do not proclaim the end of the United States it does appear that we are experiencing events which have the potential of reducing our status as a great power and plunge the nation into political and economic chaos.  Some including California Governor Jerry Brown have compared the current state of the country to the division of the country in the American Civil War.

Likewise since there are some leaders of the loud and influential Tea Party movement who openly talk about revolution it is important to know what can happen if there is a political or economic collapse that leads to revolution at home while troops are still in combat. All of this happened in Germany in 1918.  In our current time such a possibility is higher than at any time in American History. Thus I feel we are in a potentially perilous time where long standing institutions are in crisis even while wars rage around the world.

However I do not, for all the vitriol spent believe that our current crisis is comparable to the Civil War except the absolute contempt that the opposing sides hold each other. The Civil War was a war which pitted region against region and our divisions know few geographic boundaries and even the “Red State versus Blue State” divide is deceiving.  It is my belief that what we are experiencing is much more similar to the crisis faced by Imperial Germany at the end of the First World War.  Then Germany was about to concede the loss of the war despite having known enormous battlefield success that lasted until the summer of 1918 when the tide of the war turned irreversibly against them as Allies collapsed and pulled out of the war was coupled with battlefield defeats, economic ruin and massive political and social unrest. The result of the collapse of Imperial Germany was a civil war and the foundation of the ill-fated Weimar Republic which eventually succumbed to the extremism and dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party of Germany, the Nazis.

The German Revolution of 1919 and civil war is important for those who study highly developed states when they enter a period of social and political upheaval usually following military defeat that causes the society to question or even overthrow the established order.  The end of Imperial Germany and the establishment of the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1918 is a prime example.   This paper concerns the first years of the Republic, and the dependency of the Majority Socialist leadership to the General Staff and their use of Freikorps to quell revolutionary chaos and avert the establishment of a Soviet State.

Members of the Leftist “People’s Naval Division” occupied the government quarter and terrorized Berlin

This study begins with the establishment of the Republic and concludes with the Kapp Putsch.  This is an era that is seldom referenced by political or military leaders in western states and historians themselves are often divided in their interpretation of the subject.  The study of this period is vital to those who study politically polarized societies which are either war weary or have suffered the shock of military defeat coupled with a government which is blamed for the events.  Thus, it is important to study the relationship of the military to the government and in particular the military’s relationship to politicians who have little connection to or affinity for the military, its traditions and culture and the often adversarial relationship of these politicians to military leadership which often sees them as adversaries.  The period also shows how actions of those who in their antipathy to the military create a climate where the military loathes the civilian leadership and the government.  The results of such conditions can endanger the society as a whole and ultimately usher in periods of great tragedy.  This occurred in Weimar Germany with the result that the military in the later years of the Republic neither the military nor the Majority Socialists could not work together against the Nazi takeover of the state.  However, the first years of the relationship set the tone and foredoomed the Republic.

The Complexity of the Situation

General Wilhelm Groener convinced Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate and helped forge an alliance between the Majority Socialists and the Army to head off a Soviet style Revolution

The history of Weimar, particularly that of the military and Freikorps in their relationship to the Republic is complex.  Not only is the relationship between the military and government complex, but the Freikorps themselves, their organization, leadership and political affiliation were not monolithic as is sometimes maintained,[i] nor were the Freikorps the direct ancestors of the Nazi SS/SA organizations despite often similar ideology,[ii] nor can they dismissed by saying that they were composed of “former soldiers and officers ill-disposed to return to civilian life.”[iii] The Freikorps’ association with the Army and Republic is more complex than some historians assert.  Despite the right wing leanings of many of units and fighters and future association of some to the Nazis, the blanket claim that the Freikorps were forerunners of the Nazi movement is not supportable.[iv]

It is true that without Freikorps support in Munich, along with support of the Thule Society, business leaders and others “that the transition of the DAP into the Hitler party could not have taken place.”[v] It is also true that elements of the Freikorps branded too revolutionary and unruly for service in the Army continued as secret societies and affiliated themselves with various right-wing political groups.[vi] Likewise a case can be made that the fierceness of many Freikorps veterans, younger leaders of the Army helped lay the foundation for the brutality of both the Army and Waffen SS as they prosecuted the Second World War.[vii] Yet simply because certain aspects of a subject are true does not make for a broader “truth.”  Heinz Höhne argues the reverse of what some have written in regard to the relationship of the Freikorps and Reichswehr to the Nazis, that in fact the Nazis did not issue from the Freikorps, but rather that many former members of the Freikorps, Imperial Army or the Reichswehr were attracted to the Nazis, particularly to the SS by its “philosophy of “hardness” and its attitude of bellicosity per se, basically unconnected with ideology.”[viii] Others historians state similar views especially those that study the relationship of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  Thus the thesis of this paper is that the historiography like the period itself is complex; that the composition, leadership and motivations of the Freikorps were not monolithic, nor were they beloved by the Reichswehr, nor were they the “trailblazers” for the Nazi movement.  The focus of this paper is on the relationship of the Reichswehr and the Freikorps to the Republic to the Kapp Putsch and the dangers of a relationship built on necessity without mutual trust.  Such a relationship is dangerous and can lead to unintended consequences.   This paper will explore the first years of the Weimar Republic and specifically look at several key events that were pivotal in the relationship between the Army and Freikorps and the Majority Socialists.

The Supporting Literature

The literature covering this period includes both well written academic histories and popular works which attempt to present a particular view. Additionally there are biographical works which shed some light on the subject. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926 by Harold Gordon Jr. is perhaps the best study of the Freikorps and their relationship to the state and the army.  Gordon’s work is exceptional in documenting the numbers, types, political affiliation, action and ultimate disposition of the Freikorps.  The History of the German General Staff by Walter Goerlitz; The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 by John Wheeler-Bennett, The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten and The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640-1945 by Gordon A. Craig are all extremely valuable in exploring the relationship between the military and the Republic.  The best of the general histories of the period, which focus on the National Socialist state are The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher, and Richard Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich. Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart is one of the best for telling the story of the fall of the Empire and the revolution in Germany.  Watt’s account is well written and documented work and touches on other factors affecting the new republic including Versailles and Allied political actions. The final chapter of Holger Herwig’s The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 gives a good account of the Army’s role in the end of the Empire and beginning of the Republic.  Andreas Dorpalen’s Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic adds an interesting dimension of Hindenburg’s role in the republic’s formation and negotiations between Groener, Noske and Ebert. Steven Ozments’ A Mighty Fortress is superficial in its treatment of the period.  Nigel Jones’ Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler is an interesting and somewhat entertaining but not very well documented tending to “broad brush” in a sensational way the Freikorps having none of the detail or nuance of Gordon, Craig, or Carsten on the Freikorps, nor the depth of Goerlitz or Wheeler-Bennett on the Republic’s relationship with the Army, or the attitude of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Gerald Reitlinger’s The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922-1945 and Heinz Höhne’s The Order of the Death’s Head all add some information which details early Nazi involvement in the period, but are less useful to this early period most of their work focuses on later events.  Of other works, Kenneth Macksey’s Why the Germans Lose at War has an insightful but short chapter dealing with this period and Wolfram Wette’s The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality offers an interesting and at times provocative look at anti-Semitism in the German military in the years following the First World War.  Carlos Caballero Jurado’s The German Freikorps 1918-1923 is a short but very detailed study of those organizations and their actions.  B.H. Liddell-Hart who has a small chapter on General Hans Von Seeckt in The German Generals Talk which though it does not deal with the events in this paper make for interesting commentary on later actions of former Reichswehr officers who served the Nazi state.

A number of biographies touch on actions of German Officers who played key roles in World War Two.[ix] Most auto-biographies gloss over the Weimar period; however Admiral Erich Reader’s memoir Grand Admiral offers the insight of a naval officer with some direct observation of the revolution and the Kapp Putsch.  General Heinz Guderian in Panzer Leader omits his service in the Baltic “Iron Division.”  Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s memoirs has a brief section covering the period, but one comment is typical attitude toward of many officers throughout its existence:

“My cup of bitterness was full when I saw my devoted work rewarded by a warrant for my arrest for an alleged putsch against the socialist-influenced command of my III Bavarian Army Corps. Notwithstanding the degrading episodes during my imprisonment after 1945, I do not hesitate to describe this as the most humiliating moment of my life.”[x]

One thing that has to be noted about all the memoirs is that each of the writers was writing after the German Defeat and their imprisonment. Many times their words mask other actions and attitudes that are  not mentioned, thus while an important source one also has to have some suspicions when using them even the unintentional errors that come from time as well as the human tendency to have a somewhat selective memory.

Analysis

President Friedrich Ebert and his military commanders including General Hans Von Seeckt (2nd from right)

This paper will first examine the formation of the Freikorps by the Army and the Ebert government in response to uprisings by armed groups of leftists and the effectiveness of the Freikorps in putting down the various uprisings.   We will then address the relationship of the Army with the Majority Socialists and then move on to the crisis engendered by the Kapp Putsch.

The relationship of the Republic to the Army was born in the moment of crisis of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the armistice discussions with the Allies.  Beset by revolts in key naval bases and mutinies aboard ships of the High Seas Fleet and unrelenting Allied pressure on the German armies in the west the situation continued to deteriorate as the “red flag was flying in all the principle cities, soldiers behind the front were electing soldiers councils Russian fashion.”[xi] Revolutionary and defeatist propaganda spread by the radical left wing of the Independent Socialists and Spartacus League spread through the country and even affected combat units,[xii] while the “Majority Socialists had found out that the militant factions of the Independents had secretly armed themselves out of funds supplied by the Soviet ambassador and adopted the slogan “all or nothing.””[xiii] The situation had deteriorated so badly that Karl Liebknecht, leader of the Spartacus League “was announcing the establishment of a Soviet regime from the steps of the Imperial Palace.”[xiv]

Under these dire conditions, General Wilhelm Groener who had succeeded General Ludendorff as Quartermaster General called an emergency meeting of fifty “of his most senior army commanders.”[xv] In response to his question of whether the troops would follow the Kaiser and oppose the revolts only one answered in the affirmative, and eight responded that “there was no hope of using regular Army units to quell unrest at home.”[xvi] On November 9th Groener went to the Kaiser on behalf of the Supreme Command and in response to a suggestion that the Kaiser lead the Army back and suppress the revolts boldly stated “The Army will march home in peace and under its leaders and commanding generals, but not under the command of Your Majesty, for it stands no longer behind Your Majesty.”[xvii] The Emperor abdicated fleeing to Holland and Friedrich Ebert leader of the Majority Socialists was named Chancellor on November 9th and upon hearing the news, Philipp Scheidemann, without consulting Ebert announced that Ebert was Chancellor and “Long live the great German Republic!”[xviii] The mobs were not placated by the announcement and far left organizations with the Independents “had no intention of letting the revolution stop there.”[xix] In the streets of Berlin soldiers sold their weapons and vehicles officers were attacked by crowds on the streets and whenever “crowds found an Army officer; they tore off his epaulettes and medals.”[xx] Everywhere mutual recrimination was in the air, soldiers “blamed revolutionaries for the betrayal and stab-in-the back while revolutionaries blamed officers for all the costs and losses of the war.”[xxi]

Groener called Ebert promising the Army’s support of the new government in return for the government’s assistance to the Army in the maintenance of discipline and supply.[xxii] He also drafted a letter signed by Hindenburg pledging the Army’s loyalty and telling him that “the destiny of the German people is in your hands….”[xxiii]One source notes: “Thus, in half a dozen sentences over a telephone line a pact was concluded between a defeated army and a tottering semi-revolutionary regime; a pact destined to save both parties from the extreme elements of revolution but, as a result of which the Weimar Republic was doomed at birth.”[xxiv]

The High Command was able to bring the Army home in good order following the armistice but upon arriving most units “melted away like snow under a summer sun,”[xxv] those which remained were often shells of their former selves beset by soldier’s councils and leftist revolutionaries.  To support the government the High Command issued a directive stating that it “put itself as the disposal of the present government led by Ebert without any reservation.”[xxvi] Yet in December delegates of the National Assembly continued to sow resentment in the military by military discipline be placed in the hands of soldiers’ councils, that all badges of rank be removed with all decorations of insignia and honor.[xxvii] Reaction was heated,[xxviii] but despite this Groener, Colonel Walter Reinhardt, the Prussian Minister of War and the Republic’s Defense Minister, Gustav Noske endeavored to find forces to combat the growing revolution and rebellious military units.  The choice was not hard, the Army was of no use, so called “democratic forces” were in most cases both unreliable and ineffective, while only the Freikorps “provided suitable material for the immediate creation of an efficient, combat-ready army.”[xxix] Thus the Freikorps became the instrument of necessity to ensure that the government was not swept away by a Soviet style revolution.

Gustav Noske and General Von Luttwitz. Luttwitz would lead the Reichswehr and Freikorps units that participated in the Kapp Putsch

Gustav Noske, of the Majority Socialist party “saw himself as a patriot, a man of action…who had no time for theories…and was one of the few Socialists that the Supreme Command trusted.”[xxx] He had already distinguished himself by helping to bring under control the sailors revolts in Kiel by forming a loyal “Naval Brigade”[xxxi] and he  “realized that the government must have a dependable military force behind it if it was to survive and rule Germany” and the “old Officer Corps must be the backbone of any such force.”[xxxii] The Army had melted away and units of the workers and soldiers councils were poorly trained, organized and led “”fought against the government as often as for it” and “were of little practical value to either the government or the rebels.”[xxxiii] In the chaos of a Spartacus, now called the German Communist Party uprising and vacuum of political leadership of January 1st 1919 agreed to become defense minister stating “Someone must be the bloodhound, I won’t shirk the responsibility!”[xxxiv]

Noske reviewing Freikorps Hulsen. Many of the Freikorps were composed of professional soldiers and brought into the Reichswehr

Noske helped by the High Command helped organize volunteer units led by officers and NCOs composed of reliable veterans.  Freikorps varied in size from divisions to companies and were led by Generals down to Sergeants and even a Private First Class.  Their greatest success was in early 1919 when the Republic was beset by “Red” revolutions in many major cities.  Without the use of the Freikorps by the government it is unlikely that the Republic would have survived.[xxxv] On January 4th Ebert and Noske reviewed the troops of General Maercker’s Freiwillege Landesjaegerkorps and Maercker informed them that every volunteer had pledged loyalty to the government, seeing the discipline and order Noske told Ebert “Don’t worry. Everything going to turn out all right now.”[xxxvi] On January 5th 1919 mobs attacked the Chancellery and the officers of the Socialist Vörwarts newspaper and Noske led the Freikorps[xxxvii] to regain control of the city[xxxviii] and crush the revolt during which “Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were lynched by the officers of the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division.”[xxxix] In March after a period of uneasy calm the Freikorps, now reinforced by the 2nd Naval Brigade, or Ehrhardt Brigade[xl] were called upon to put down the revolt of the “People’s Naval Division.”[xli] Making liberal use of heavy weapons including tanks the Freikorps inflicted heavy losses on the leftists with over 1500 dead and 12,000 wounded in the uprising.[xlii] Other revolts were crushed and the Freikorps reached their zenith in Württemberg where Freikorps led by Lieutenant Hahn, a Social Democrat put down leftist revolts[xliii] and in Bavaria where Independents and Communists had taken the city with their “Bavarian Red Army which numbered nearly 25,000 men[xliv] on April 7th. After failed attempts by the Socialist government to retake Munich, they asked for Berlin’s help.  Violence and massacres of citizens by the various leftist groups inflamed the Freikorps, including the Ehrhardt Brigade and the revolt was crushed by May 2nd.[xlv] Dorpalen calls the Freikorps ruthlessness “completely unwarranted in view of the weakness of the opposing forces” and noted though they broke the leftist powers they deepened the nations’ cleavages”[xlvi] while Macksey writes that “where Freikorps’ brutality stained the pages of history there was invariably a forgoing or simultaneous record of excess by their sworn opponents.”[xlvii]

The Erhardt Brigade in Berlin during the Kapp Putsch

The Provisional Reichswehr was established on March 6th 1919 and the High Command began to assemble it from the Freikorps, remaining Army units and Republican defense forces.  Some Freikorps were brought into the new Army in total, but the tumult had not yet ceased.  There was a great distrust between many in the Army, the remaining Freikorps and the Socialists.  The crisis was precipitated by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Noske and others threatened resignation over the war guilt clauses, but Groener warned that if the treaty was rejected the Army could not win against the Allies if hostilities were renewed.[xlviii] The treaty imposed harsh limitations on the German Army which many bitterly resented, however, Seeckt, the Chief of Staff of the Army felt that it was “more important to keep the Army in being and preserve the possibility of a military resurrection.”[xlix] Yet the government had lost the support of the Officer Corps and many looked to General Walther von Lüttwitz, the Reichswehr’s senior commander for leadership.[l]

Korvettenkapitan (Lieutenant Commander) Erhardt commander of the 2nd Naval Brigade whose announced demobilization triggered the Kapp Putsch. Erhardt would have to flee after the Nazi takeover. Even revolutionaries become victims as revolutions end

Other right-wing groups and individuals made plans to overthrow the government.  They favored revolt against the government, but “their political aims were hazy.”[li] Seeckt and Reinhardt felt it necessary to demobilize Freikorps who’s ill-discipline and political radicalism was a “danger to the consolidation desired by the army command.”[lii] This movement climaxed with the alliance of Lüttwitz to Wolfgang Kapp and was triggered by the orders disbanding the 2nd and 3rd Naval Brigades in compliance with Versailles and due to their radical views.[liii] In spite of the opposition of his chief of staff Von Lüttwitz began planning a coup to save Germany.[liv] The conspirators showed “little regard for coordination of effort and a quite amazing ability to work at cross purposes.”[lv] On March 12th without consulting Kapp, Lüttwitz and Ehrhardt launched the Putsch and Ehrhardt’s brigade in full battle dress entered Berlin. At this point the Reichswehr command froze; officers refused to condone the putsch but at the same time refused to support Noske and Reinhardt who demanded armed opposition,[lvi] while Navy officers openly supported it.[lvii] Seeckt declared that “Troops do not fire upon troops!” and “When at occurs, then the true catastrophe, which was avoided with so much difficulty on November 9, 1918 will really occur.”[lviii] The coup died amid massive strike by workers and lack of popular support but the damage was done.  Noske resigned, many officers in were discredited[lix] and dismissed including Lüttwitz and Admiral Von Trotha, who openly supported the coup,[lx] though Raeder says that Von Trotha and the Navy staff only” thought of anything of complete loyalty to the government.”[lxi] The relationship which had endured the dire days of the Republic was ended.  The Reichswehr would emerge a lean and highly trained organization and remain a power broker in the Republic but the animosity between the Army and the Socialists that they could not stand together against the Nazis despite a mutual interest in doing so.[lxii]

Conclusion

The end of Weimar and the beginning of a nightmare

The period was a critical and complex and should be studied by anyone living in a state with a powerful military tradition and institutions in crisis.  Unlike popular notions, the Freikorps were diverse and not the seed-bed of the Nazi movement and though many former members would become Nazis.  Several, including Ehrhardt narrowly escaped death at Nazi hands.[lxiii] Freikorps were viewed by Army leadership as an expedient force that could not remain in the service once the Army was functional.

Key lessons include that the military cannot become a “state within a state,” and that both military and civilian leaders must seek to bridge any gulf that separates them in times of crisis.  In Weimar both the military and the Socialists thoroughly distrusted one another with the result that they eventually, despite early success[lxiv] worked against each other in later years.  Actions by both Socialists and the military ultimately subverted the Republic and ensured its demise and Seeckt’s policy of separation from politics “tended toward a renunciation of the soldier’s potential restraining influence on adventurous statesmen.”[lxv] Such is the fateful lesson for today.


[i] Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd. London, U.K. 1987 and 2004.  This is Jones assertion and he attempts to make the tie using careers of some individuals who served both in Freikorps and either in the Nazi Party or Military and attitudes common in many Freikorps with similar attitudes found in the Nazi movement.  The 2004 edition of his work includes an introduction by Michael Burleigh echoing his sentiments.

[ii] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Group. London, U.K. and New York, NY. 2003. pp.227-229.  Evans discusses the fact that the Nazis did have a number of Freikorps veterans but at no point makes the connection that the Freikorps are a direct ancestor.

[iii] Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2004 p.246

[iv] Gordon, Harold J. Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1957.  Gordon’s work is perhaps the most detailed study involving the Freikorps and the Reichswehr. He is exceptional in discussing the relationship of both with the various political parties including the Nazis.  He refutes this assertion throughout the book.

[v] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship. Translated by Jean Steinberg. Praeger Publications, New York, NY 1970. Originally published as Die Deutsche Diktatur: Enstehung, Struktur, Folgen des Nationalsozialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Koln und Berlin. 1969. p.101

[vi] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954 pp. 91-92

[vii] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, U.K. 2004. p.28

[viii] Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlag der Spiegel, Hamburg, 1966. p.54.

[ix] These include Macksey’s biographies of Kesselring and Guderian , Richard Giziowski’s The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Peter Padfield’s Dönitz: the Last Führer, David Fraser’s biography of Field Marshal Rommel Knight’s Cross, Messenger’s work on Von Rundsedt, The Last Prussian, and Höhne’s Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy all provide brief but interesting views of the actions and attitudes of these officers during the revolution and during the  Weimar period.

[x] Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum, Bonn, Germany 1953 pp.18-19

[xi] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.200

[xii] Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957 pp.4-5 Gordon recounts the story of an entire replacement train revolting when it reached the front which had to be disarmed by a shock battalion.

[xiii] Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1968. p.186

[xiv] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954. p.18

[xv] Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group, London, UK and New York NY 1997 p.445

[xvi] Ibid. Herwig. p.445

[xvii] Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1966 p.6.  It is noted by a number of author’s that Groener did this, to maintain the unity of Germany and prevent its division.

[xviii] Ibid. Watt. p.196  Watt notes Ebert’s reaction as being enraged as the proclamation of the Republic technically “invalidated the existing constitution; Germany was now technically without a government.” (p.197)

[xix] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xx] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xxi]Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.65

[xxii] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1955 pp.347-348.  Craig gives an interesting account noting the Groener’s call to Ebert shows recognition of the legitimacy of the new government and notes that the offer was somewhat conditional.

[xxiii] Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1964 p.26

[xxiv] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.21

[xxv] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxvi] Ibid. Carsten. p.11. This was of critical importance as Carsten later notes that the Army realized that the government could not survive without its support.  Groener was perhaps the officer who most recognized the situation and endeavored to ensure that “the best and the strongest element of the old Prussia, was saved for the new Germany, in spite of the revolution.” (p.12)

[xxvii] Ibid. Carsten. p.18 Carsten produces the bulk of the English translation of these points and notes that the anti-military feeling had become widespread.

[xxviii] Ibid. Giziowski. p.66  Giziowski recounts the speech of Hermann Goering in response to the announcement. This shows how such treatment can breed anger and resentment in a military that feels it has been betrayed after serving its country in a long and difficult war: For four long years we officers did our duty and risked all for the Fatherland. Now we have come home, and how do they treat us? The spit on us and deprive us of what we gloried in wearing. I will tell you that the people are not to blame for such conduct. The people were are comrades…for four long years.  No, the ones who have stirred up the people, who have stabbed this glorious army in the back…. I ask everyone here tonight to cherish a hatred, a deep and abiding hatred, for these swine who have outraged the German people and our traditions.  The day is coming when we will drive them out of our Germany.”

[xxix] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxx] Ibid. Watt. p.168

[xxxi] Ibid. Gordon. pp. 19 and 24.  This was the 1st Marine Brigade, or Brigade Von Roden of which elements would later serve in under the command of other Freikorps such as the Guards Calvary Rifle Division.

[xxxii] Ibid. Gordon. p.14

[xxxiii] Ibid. Gordon. p.18

[xxxiv] Ibid. Watt. p.239

[xxxv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426

[xxxvi] Ibid. Watt. p.247

[xxxvii] Thee forces included the Landesjaegerkorps and Guards Cavalry Rifle division.

[xxxviii] Ibid. Gordon. p.30

[xxxix] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.36

[xl] This was one of two additional Naval Brigades formed by Noske after the success of Naval Brigade Von Roden.  It was one of the most combat effective but unfortunately violent and radical of the Freikorps, it would as we will see be a key unit in the Kapp Putsch but would not be absorbed into the Reichswehr.

[xli] This unit was not a Navy unit at all but was composed of many who were criminals and other rabble. See Gordon, Carsten and Watt.

[xlii] Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK 2001 p.12

[xliii] Ibid. Gordon. p.42  His units were known as Security Companies.

[xliv] Ibid. Jurado. p.13

[xlv] Ibid. Gordon. pp.47-49. An estimated 550 people including 200 innocent bystanders were killed in the fighting.

[xlvi] Ibid. Dorpalen. p.29

[xlvii] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.45

[xlviii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. pp.57-59

[xlix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.216

[l] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.61

[li] Ibid. Carsten. p.74

[lii] Ibid. Carsten. pp.74-75

[liii] Ibid. Carsten. p.76  Another consideration is that Noske, Reinhardt and Seeckt all were seeking to retire Lüttwitz.

[liv] Ibid. Gordon. p.97

[lv] Ibid. Craig. p.376

[lvi] Ibid. Carsten. pp.78-79

[lvii] Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper Square Press, New York, NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published in Germany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976. p. 78.  Canaris also had been suspected of complicity in the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht but was acquitted. (pp.56-71)

[lviii] Ibid. Gordon. pp.114-115

[lix] Among them Maercker who had been such a strong supporter of the Republic in the early days.

[lx] Ibid. Carsten. p.98

[lxi] Raeder, Erich. Grand Admiral. Translated from the German by Henry W. Drexell. United States Naval Institute, Annapolis MD, 1960. Da Capo Press edition published 2001. p.111. This is interesting as almost all histories implicate the Navy High Command of either some complicity or at least agreement with the Putsch participants.

[lxii] The final part in the drama would come when General Kurt Von Schleicher became the last Chancellor before Hitler.  Schleicher had assisted Groener and Noske in the early days of the Republic and often attempted to use the Army’s influence in politics. He was fatally short sighted and was a victim of the SS “night of Long Knives” which was directed against the SA.

[lxiii] Ibid. Jones. p.266  Others such as Gerhard Rossbach had similar experiences.  Korvettenkapitän Löwenfeld of the 3rd Naval Brigade became an Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris , who was implicated in the Kapp Putsch but kept his career would later head the Abwehr and die in a concentration camp.

[lxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426  Gordon has a good discussion of this topic in his conclusion.

65 Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications, New York, NY. 1979. p.18 Liddell-Hart’s analysis of the results of the Reichswehr’s disconnection from the larger society and political process is remarkable due to current trends in the American military which like the Reichswehr has become somewhat more conservative and disconnected from society, exceptionally technically proficient but not adept in politics or grand-strategy.

 

Works Cited

 

Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism. Translated from the German by Jean Steinberg with an introduction by Peter Gay.  Praeger Publishers, New York, NY. 1970 Originally published in Germany as Die deutsche Diktator: Entstehung, Struktur, Folgen den Nationalsozialismus by Verlag Kiepenheuer und Witsch. Koln und Berlin.

 

Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1966

 

Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1955

 

Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1964

 

Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Books, New York, NY and London, UK. 2003

 

Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997

 

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

 

Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957

 

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

 

Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group, London, UK and New York NY 1997

 

Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper Square Press, New York, NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published in Germany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976.

 

Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlag der Spiegel, Hamburg, 1966.

 

Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed the Way for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd. London, UK 1987

 

Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK 2001

 

Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum, Bonn, Germany 1953.

 

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications, New York, NY. 1979

 

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

 

Macksey, Kenneth. Kesselring: The German Master Strategist of the Second World War. Greenhill Books, London, UK 2000.

 

Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2004

 

Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, U.K. 2004

 

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954

 

Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1968

 

Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, UK  2006. Translated from the German by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskrieg, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag Gmbh, Frankfurt am Main, Germany 2002

 

 

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