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Freikorps (voluntary regiment)

In the mid-18th Century a Freikorps in the Prussian Army was a semi-independent unit, raised by its commander-proprietor as opposed to one of the standing regiments of the Prussian Army. These units, some of which were organized as combined-arms task forces, included infantry, Jägers, light artillery, and hussars. They usually did not serve in the regular line of battle but operated ahead of the army on the march and on the flanks in battle. They were characterized by a greater degree of independence and less discipline than the regular soldiers. They were also frequently detached for special missions. The greater degree of independence and character of the troops required more from junior officers than service in a line regiment.

Adolph Freiherr von Lutzow (1782-1834), Prussian lieutenant-general, entered the army in 1795, and in 1808, as a major, he retired from the Prussian army, indignant at the humiliating treaty of Tilsit. In 1811 he was restored to the Prussian army as major, and at the outbreak of the "war of liberation" received permission from Scharnhorst to organize a "free corps" consisting of infantry, cavalry and Tirolese marksmen, for operating in the French rear and rallying the smaller governments into the ranks of the allies. This corps played a marked part in the campaign of 1813. But Lutzow was unable to coerce the minor states, and the wanderings of the corps had little military influence. At Kitzen (near Leipzig) the whole corps, warned too late of the armistice of Poischwitz, was caught on the French side of the line of demarcation and, as a fighting force, annihilated.

Germany, coming out of the Great War after four years' fighting, had at her disposal seven million soldiers. These millions of soldiers had survived the war. The men themselves are kept constantly under observation. These seven million soldiers had not simply returned to civilian life, but had been grouped in all sorts of organizations, with the admirable ingenuity displayed by the German people under similar circumstances. Such were the Freikorps; such were the numerous associations for former combatants. Advantage was taken of every occasion, every anniversary - and the Germans are very fond of anniversaries - to bring together their members, to mobilize them, to keep them in hand.

The Freikorps appealed for volunteers and money to halt "the menace that is already knocking at the eastern gates of the Fatherland." Then there were the more direct enticements to recruits for newly formed Freicorps - "the protective home guard," their authors called it-usually named for the officer whose signature as commander appeared at the bottom of the poster. Even the newspapers carried full-page advertisements setting forth the advantages of enrolling in the independent battalion of Major B or the splendid regiment of Colonel S, a far cry indeed from the days of universal compulsory service. "If you will join my company," ran these glowing promises, after long-winded appeals to patriotism, "you will be commanded by experienced officers, such as the undersigned, and you will be lodged, fed, and well paid by the government. What better occupation can you find?"

While the old army was being demobilized and the evils of the imperial military system were being eradicated, frantic efforts were made to organize security police, home guards, reserve units, volunteer corps, and a national guard. To the Entente demands that the army must be reduced to one hundred thousand men, Germany replied with the assertion that a much larger force of organized militia was needed in order to maintain order and to repel invasions. The officer class still clung to the system of universal military service. Indeed the Socialist government did not hesitate, during the Polish troubles, to enforce the old imperial universal military service law in the eastern provinces in order to raise fresh troops.

In these volunteer federations collected monarchistic and right-conservative forces which saw no secure future from the end of the War and revolutionary radical change. Those approximately 400,000 members in some 120 free corps had above all anti-revolutionary and anti-democratic opinions. The strength of smaller free corps amounted to between 2,000 and 10,000 men. They were armed with carbines, however the infantry and Kavallerie-einheiten had also numerous heavy machine guns and mine launchers.

The Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division, to which belonged up to 40,000 men, was the largest Freikorps. During the supression of the January 1919 rebellion, members of the division were responsible for the murder of Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht. Freikorps fought 1919 in the Baltic against Soviet-Russian troops, and they struck down further revolutionary unrests and communist revolution attempts on behalf the government, like the Munich soviet republic or the March rebellion of 1920, but they did not fight for the parliamentary democracy of the Weimar Republic.

At the close of the March 1919 rebellion the capital of Germany was defended by volunteer corps and skeleton formations of the old units, which in many cases occupied their former barracks. Practically all the active organizations maintained recruiting offices. General von Lettow-Vorbeck raised a force called Division Lettow, which soon rivaled the Reinhardt Brigade, the Liittwitz Corps, and the Huelsen Free Corps. In addition the Berlin district contained the Guard Cavalry Rifle Division, the German Defense Division, the Land Rifle Corps, and the Potsdam Free Corps.

Freikorps took part in March 1920 in the Lüttwitz-Kapp-Putsch, oriented towards the right. Noske, the Socialist Minister of National Defence, had, with misplaced confidence, put Gen. von Luttwitz at the head of the troops which suppressed the Communist risings in Berlin. Luttwitz, after delivering a kind of ultimatum to the Government, placed himself at the disposal of Wolfgang Kapp, and with other officers, undertook conspiracy to seize power in Berlin and to occupy the Government offices. On March 12 1920 the Republican Government of the Reich suddenly issued an order for the arrest of Kapp. Gen. von Luttwitz led the troops, which consisted mainly of the so-called "Baltikum" and other Free Corps, from the camp of Doberitz near Berlin into the capital in the early morning of March 13, where he occupied the Government buildings. Kapp was installed in the Imperial Chancellery and issued proclamations with his signature as "Chancellor of the Reich." President Ebert, Chancellor Bauer, and other members of the Ministry fled in motor-cars first to Dresden and afterwards to Stuttgart. Kapp tried to form a Government, with a number of desperate and in part criminal characters in the subordinate offices. Well-known Conservatives and former secretaries of state, who were invited to assume the more important offices, declined to associate themselves with him. The Government had no troops whom it could trust to put down the Kapp insurrection, but the working classes of Berlin took the matter into their own hands, and by a universal strike rendered the continuance of the Kapp " Government " impossible. Kapp saw that the game was up, and on the evening of March 17 he and Luttwitz fled from Berlin in motor-cars. The insurrectionary Government had lasted four days.

Members of the Hermann Ehrhardt naval brigade gave as indications of its völkischen convicition a swastika on the steel helmet. Other free corps members found hideout in the secret Organization Consul (OC), created by Ehrhardt, which murdered prominent republican politicians such as Matthias Erzberger or Walther Rathenau. Also the Stahlhelm [steel helmet] and the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) recruited members from free corps federations, which had to be dissolved in accordance with the regulations of the Versailler of contract in the spring 1920 officially.

Numerous dissolved free corps units were again re-activated in May 1921, in order to resume in the months before the division of Upper Silesia the fight against Polish encroachments, for which from free corps "border control east" recruited in Schlesien already 1919 with the slogan "protects the homeland" had recruited.

The Freikorps Oberland was a paramilitary, German national and anticommunist volunteer troop, which was considered as forerunner organization of the SA. It came from the anti-Semitic "Thule Society" [Thule-Gesellschaft]. The spirit of this organization is seen in a quotation of its founder, Rudolf von Sebottendorf (birth name: Rudolf Glauer)" ... we are not democrats, we reject democracy. Democracy is Jewish, all revolution of the democracy is Jewish...." On 19 April 1919 Sebottendorf received the authorization to set up the Freikorps Oberland. A few days later 300 Freikorps Oberland took part in the bloody supression of the Munich soviet republic and the following white terror. In July 1919 there were already 1,050 men under the insignia of the Edelweißes who were combat ready. in 1920 parts of the Freikorps Oberland fought against the revolutionary workers in the Ruhr district, and in 1921 against Polish partisans in Upper Silesia. Renamed the Bund Oberland [Oberland League] in 1923 they substantially took part in the Hitler Ludendorff putsch, and on 09 November 1933 the flag of the Freikorps Oberland solemnly was handed over to the SA. Notable members included Reichsführer-SS und Chef der deutschen Polizei Heinrich Himmler.

These were the bands that composed the German army of 1919, semi-independent groups, loosely disciplined, and bearing the name of some officer of the old regime. They may not constitute an overpowering force, but there was always the possibility that some man of magnetism and Napoleonic ambition may gather them all together and become a military dictator.

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