The Kapp Putsch

Berlin, Kapp-Putsch, Putschisten

This time, the communist uprising in Germany was provoked by the right-wing putsch (coup attempt). The Kapp Putsch took place in Berlin on March 13th 1920– two weeks before Adolf Hitler was discharged from the Army.

Actually, it would have been much more accurate to call this putsch the Lüttwitz- Ehrhardt putsch after General Walther von Lüttwitz (Commander of Reichswehr Command Group I) and Korvettenkapitän (Major) Hermann Ehrhardt, the leader of the most powerful Freikorps known as the Ehrhardt Brigade (it had a swastika as their emblem) as these two characters played the key roles in the unsuccessful coup.

The reason why it was named after Wolfgang Kapp (62-year-old nationalist New York – born politician and member of Reichstag) was simple – after the putschists occupied Berlin (meeting no resistance from either Army or police) he declared himself Chancellor and formed a (very short-lived) provisional government

As any putsch worthy of its name, it attempted to overthrow the Weimar Republic, establish a right-wing authoritarian government (i.e. dictatorship) and thus undo the German Revolution of 1918, universally hated by the German Right.  It was supported by parts of the Reichswehr (military) and other conservative, nationalist and monarchist factions.

The coup failed miserably – it lasted for just four days. It is important that it was defeated not by the military force (as Reichswehr units were either neutral or outright supportive of the putsch) or the police (ditto) but by the general strike called by the legitimate (and mostly Social-Democratic) German government.

Apparently, German workers and civil servants, although not very happy with Weimar Republic, categorically did not want to go back to the old but not good at all days of the monarchy (let alone to accept an even more autocratic and even more right-wing regime).

This failed putsch should have taught Adolf Hitler a valuable lesson – a putsch (any putsch) does not work and will not work in Germany so the only way to power is via legitimate means – victory in Reichstag elections.

Unfortunately, it did not as three and a half years later Adolf Hitler attempted his own coup (Beer Hall Putsch) and twenty people had to die for Hitler to finally get this simple message.

He, however, learned another – and just the opposite – lesson (that in some way prompted him to attempt the Beer Hall Putsch). As the legitimate Social-Democratic government of Germany (a) did not want to alienate the very much right-leaning Reichswehr and police force and (2) after the Ruhr uprising considered the Communists a far more serious threat, it treated the Kapp putschists very leniently.

So Hitler (correctly) surmised that even if his coup fails and he is arrested he has little to fear about. And that’s exactly what happened.

The Kapp putsch had another – and groundbreaking – consequence for Adolf Hitler. Although the coup failed in Berlin, it succeeded in Bavaria (then essentially a semi-autonomous state in Germany) where the local Reichswehr troops toppled the Social Democratic state government and replaced it with the right-wing regime of Gustav Ritter von Kahr who played an important role in crushing the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919.

Von Kahr was the first mainstream politician who recognized Hitler’s potential as at least a statewide nationalist leader. And made a mistake that many others subsequently made – that he could control ‘the impetuous Austrian’ and use him for his own purposes.

So on May 14th, 1921, he invited a delegation from the NSDAP, led by Hitler, to discuss the political situation with him. Their alliance, though promising, never happened as Hitler (predictably) turned out to be impossible to control.

In two and a half years, von Kahr and Hitler found themselves on the opposite sides of the barricades (literally) when the former became instrumental in the collapse and suppression of Beer Hall Putsch, organized and led by the latter.

Hitler never forgot such betrayals and when von Kahr made a fatal mistake of staying in Germany after Nazis got the absolute power in March of 1933, the Führer delivered his revenge.

On June 30th, 1934, during the so-called “Night of Long Knives”, Gustav Ritter von Kahr was arrested and immediately executed by the SS assassins acting on Hitler’s personal orders.


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