The Stepping Stone

The Kapp Putsch did not succeed, that’s for sure – but it did not completely fail either. It did fail in Berlin all right, but in Bavaria (a de-facto semi-independent state within the Weimar Republic), it was very much successful.

The de-facto Bavarian Army that consisted of local Reichswehr units, the Freikorps (that together with the Reichswehr were de-facto occupying Munich after the destruction of the Bavarian Soviet Republic a year earlier) and the newly established Einwohnerwehr (“Civil Guard” – another right-wing paramilitary force) saw the Kapp Putsch (and the resulting temporary collapse of a central government in Berlin) as a perfect opportunity to get rid of “November criminals” (i.e. the Social-Democratic state government).

An opportunity that they promptly seize. On March 14th (the very next day after the commencement of Kapp Putsch) the Bavarian Army forced the much-hated Minister-President Johannes Hoffmann (who during his tenure as Bavarian Minister of Education removed the Bavarian schooling system from the supervision of the Catholic Church) to resign.

Two days later, it installed Gustav Ritter von Kahr (a committed monarchist knighted by a Bavarian King Ludwig III, a former head of the provincial government of Upper Bavaria and the creator of the “Civil Guard”) as the next Minister-President of a then Free State of Bavaria.

This putsch (and it was a putsch all right) split the German nation – now it was Munich vs. Berlin; Bavaria vs. Prussia; Catholic vs, Protestant; Right vs. Left; Conservative vs. Liberal.

Von Kahr’s administration in no time transformed Bavaria into what it called a Ordnungszelle (“territory of order”). In practice, it was a territory of right-wing order where all left-wing political activities were (often brutally) suppressed while the right-wing parties, groups, organizations and activities were openly encouraged and supported by the state government.

Including separatist forces committed to total and complete Bavarian independence from Germany – which worried the central government in Berlin to no end. Ultimately, it passed a decree for the protection of the Republic against right-wing extremists and forced von Kahr to resign on 21 September 1921.

It did not help much as by that time von Kahr has already the final steps that transformed the once-Red Bavaria into a bastion of radical right-wing German nationalism – the counter-balance to the still mostly Social-Democratic Prussia.

And a perfect springboard, stepping stone and a lifetime opportunity for Adolf Hitler and now completely his Nazi party.

Interestingly, Adolf Hitler almost took part in the Kapp Putsch. On March 14th, 1920 the Reichswehr (that apparently already held him in high esteem and thus believed that he would be of great value to the coup) flew him from Munich to Berlin on a requisitioned aircraft.

His pilot was no other than Robert von Greim – a Bavarian Army veteran and a decorated war hero like himself. However, unlike Hitler, von Greim was already an officer when the Great War broke out.

Prior to becoming a pilot, he commanded an artillery battery and then went on to become a battalion adjutant of 8th Field Artillery Regiment. 10 August 1915 he transferred to the German Air Service (the equivalent of Luftwaffe in German Imperial Army).

After successfully completing his pilot training, he initially flew a two-seater artillery observer aircraft but subsequently transferred to a fighter unit – Jagdstaffel 34.

He not only survived (a no small feat given the vulnerability of WWI aircraft) but promptly became an ace and in nine months scored impressive 28 aerial victories. Which earned him not only Iron Cross Second and First Class (like Hitler) but also the much-coveted Pour le Mérite (the highest military decoration in Imperial Germany) and Military Order of Max Joseph (the highest military decoration in Kingdom of Bavaria).

In 1933, Hermann Göring (a fighter ace and a decorated WWI hero himself) invited Greim to help him to rebuild the German Air Force, and in 1934 he was appointed to command the first fighter pilot school, following the closure of the secret flying school established near the city of Lipetsk in the Soviet Union during the closing days of the Weimar Republic.

By the end of the WW2, von Greim rose to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall and at the very end of it replaced Göring as commander-in-chief of Luftwaffe. Like Hitler, he committed suicide but, unlike his boss, in American custody (on May 24th 1945).

Unfortunately (or fortunately) for Hitler, during the Kapp Pursch von Greim made a mistake (apparently, he was a far better pilot than navigator). He landed on a wrong airfield which but that time was under control of striking workers who prevented Hitler from joining the putschists.

Hitler was very much aware of the indisputable fact that – Providence or no Providence – his chances of coming to power in Germany via victory in the national elections in the foreseeable future were precisely zero. He still was a leader of a very small very local and very right-wing nationalist party (and not even a German citizen yet) – definitely not a recipe for success.

Consequently, he had but one workable strategy – come to power in Bavaria (far more receptive to his nationalist, anti-Semitic and revanchist message), and then use its formidable power to take over the whole Germany (and Austria which was religiously and culturally even closer).

Inspired by a successful military coup of March 14th, 1920 and (correctly) believing that his chances of winning the elections in the Free State of Bavaria were only marginally above zero, Hitler decided that his only chance of coming to power in Bavaria was to organize and lead a successful military (or paramilitary) takeover of power in Munich.

To organize and execute a successful coup, he needed support of the masses (that had to be hypnotized and whipped into a berserk frenzy with public speeches, newspaper articles and radio addresses), support of Bavarian elite (politicians and wealthy individuals) and of the de-facto sovereign Bavarian Army.

Sovereign not only from the central government in Berlin but from the state government in Munich as well – local Reichswehr units, Bavarian Freikorps and newly minted Civil Guard.

But more than that, he needed his own paramilitary force. His very own private army. The army that will be subsequently known as the (in)famous brownshirts. Stormtroopers. The Sturmabteilung (the “Storm Detachment”).

The SA.

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