Kapp Putsch: Chaos in Germany after the First World War

The Kapp Putsch took place in Weimar Germany in March 1920. Wolfgang Kapp was a right-wing journalist who opposed all that he believed Friedrich Ebert stood for especially after what he believed was the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles.

The Kapp Putsch was a direct threat to Weimar’s new government. Kapp was assisted by General Luttwitz who lead a group of Freikorps men. On March 13th, 1920, Luttwitz seized Berlin and proclaimed that a new right of centre nationalist government was being established with Kapp as chancellor.

Ebert had no immediate response to this in the sense that he could not impose his will on the situation. For the second time, he had to leave his capital – once again undermining his status and to some emphasising his weak position within Germany. The government reconvened in Dresden and the only card Ebert could play was to call for a general strike to paralyse the movement of those who supported Kapp and Luttwitz.

Kapp received support from one of Germany’s foremost military officers – General Erich Luderndorff. But the main officer corps of the German Army failed to follow Luderndorff’s lead. It is possible that they felt some form of support for a president who had given them a free hand in dealing with the Communists/Spartacists in 1919. Certainly, Ebert could not have been seen as being anti-military. However, the military did nothing to stop the putsch and give active support to Ebert.

The general strike called for by Ebert ensured that those who supported Kapp could not move around and such paralysis doomed the putsch to failure. Kapp and Luttwitz fled Berlin on March 17th.

Why did the Kapp Putsch fail?
The coup was not well prepared, it was largely rejected by the entrepreneurs, the majority of the army remained politically neutral and the Berlin ministerial officials joined in the general strike
Backing the rebels were only among the big landowners, council officers and land east of the Elbe

The five days of the Kapp Putsch are of importance as they showed that:
The government could not enforce its authority even in its own capital The government could not put down a challenge to its authority Only the mass power of a general strike could re-establish Ebert’s authority.

Berliners simply wanted no more trouble in their capital after experiencing the Spartacists/Communist rebellion in 1919. Peace was more important than political beliefs.

Those who fought for Kapp and Luttwitz were obvious future supporters of the fledgling Nazi Party. Ironically, the Erhardt Brigade, one of Luttwitz’s main fighting force, put a sign on their helmets to identify who they were: the swastika.

Luttwitz army takes over Berlin

The coup is declared.

Kapp's Liitwitz Free Corps during the coup.

"There is a terrible misery and hunger in the city," wrote Einstein about the Kapp Putsch. "Infant mortality is horrendous ... The government is completely helpless, with the real powers fighting each other: the army, money and extremist socialist groups.

Article 160 of the Versailles Treaty, ordered the reduction of the German army to 100,000 professional soldiers and the dissolution of the existing volunteer Freikorps. This infuriated Kapp and he decided to seize power. Hence the Putsch.
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Points To Ponder


It is difficult to distinguish between the quality of both the German and Russian soldiers. Both were motivated by their love for their motherland. But there were others factors that drove the two sides to such desperate fighting.

One, both sides knew that this was a no-holds bar war. Not fighting was thus not an option.

Second, both Hitler and Stalin had squads that killed any deserter. Turning away from fighting was just not possible.

Thus was seen some of the most bitter, brutal and desperate fighting on the WW2 eastern (Russian) Front.
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