The Kapp Putsch — also known as the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch, after its leaders Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz — was a coup attempt in March 1920 aimed at undoing the results of the German Revolution of 1918–1919 and overthrowing the Weimar Republic. It was supported by parts of the Reichswehr (military) and other conservative and reactionary forces. The coup took place in the capital, Berlin, and the legitimate German government was forced to flee the city. However, the coup failed after a few days when large sections of the German population followed the government's call to join a general strike, civil servants refused to cooperate with the illegitimate government, and several high-ranking military figures withdrew their support.
After Germany had lost World War I (1914-1918), the German Revolution of 1918–1919 overthrew the monarchy and the German Empire was abolished. A democratic system, the Weimar Republic, was established. Right-wing nationalist and militarist circles opposed the new republic and promoted the stab-in-the-back myth, claiming that the war had been lost only because the brave efforts of the German military had been undermined by liberal civilians at home.
In 1919-1920, Germany's government was formed by the Weimar Coalition consisting of the SPD (social democrats), DDP (left-of-centre liberals) and Zentrum (conservative Catholics). President Friedrich Ebert, Chancellor Gustav Bauer and Defense Minister Gustav Noske were all members of the SPD.
Gustav Bauer was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, even though he disagreed with it. The treaty had been dictated by the victorious Allies of World War I; it forced Germany to assume sole responsibility for the war, reduced the area of Germany and imposed severe reparation payments and military restrictions on the nation.
In early 1919 the strength of the Reichswehr, the regular German army, was estimated at 350,000. In addition there were more than 250,000 men enlisted in the various Freikorps (free corps), volunteer paramilitary units largely consisting of returning soldiers from the war. The German government had repeatedly used Freikorp troops to put down Communist uprisings after the war. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which came into effect on 10 January 1920, Germany was required to reduce its armed forces to a maximum of 100,000. Freikorps units were therefore expected to be disbanded.
The coup 
The coup was planned by General Walther von Lüttwitz, fervent monarchist commander of the Berlin Reichswehr and organiser of Freikorps units in the wake of World War I, Wolfgang Kapp, a 62-year-old nationalist East Prussian civil servant, and retired general Erich Ludendorff who played an important role but kept in the background. The goal was to establish an authoritarian regime (though not a monarchy) with a return to the federal structure of the Empire. Discussions about the coup had started as early as July 1919.
In March 1920 orders were issued for the disbandment of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, a Freikorps of about 5,000-6,000 men. Its leaders were determined to resist dissolution and appealed to General von Lüttwitz for support. Lüttwitz responded by calling on President Ebert and Defense Minister Gustav Noske to stop the whole programme of troop reductions. When Ebert refused, Lüttwitz ordered the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt to march on Berlin and seize the main buildings of the capital. It occupied the capital on 13 March. Lüttwitz, therefore, was the driving force behind the 1920 putsch, even though its nominal leader was Kapp. (After the putsch Noske would name Kapp, Waldemar Pabst and Hermann Ehrhardt as being responsible, despite the support from much higher up in the army.)
At this point Noske called upon the regular army to suppress the putsch. He encountered a blank refusal. The Chef der Heeresleitung General Hans von Seeckt, one of the Reichswehr's senior commanders, spoke for many of his comrades when he said: "troops do not fire on troops. So, you perhaps intend, Herr Minister, that a battle be fought before the Brandenburger Tor between troops that have fought side by side against a common enemy? When Reichswehr fires on Reichswehr all comradeship within the officers' corps will have vanished". The government, forced to abandon Berlin, moved to Dresden, where they hoped to get support from Generalmajor Maercker. When they realized that Maercker did not want to take a clear stance they moved further to Stuttgart.
Meanwhile, Kapp was declared Chancellor (Reichskanzler) by his troops and attempted to form a provisional government. Lüttwitz served as minister of defense. Several well-known conservatives and former secretaries of state were invited to assume government positions, but declined. International con-man Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln became Kapp's press censor.
In the provinces, some Army commanders were sympathetic while virtually the entire naval officer corps came out in support of the putsch. Admiral Adolf von Trotha, the Navy's commander came out in support of the coup as soon as he learned of it.
On March 13 the Cabinet issued a proclamation calling on Germany's workers to defeat the putsch by means of a general strike. The strike call received massive support among the working class. The unions, sympathetic to the government dominated by social democrats, joined the strike on the same day; the communists joined one day later. The ensuing struggles claimed numerous victims among workers all over the country.
Adolf Hitler, who had been in contact with the instigators of the coup and was eager to help it along, flew into Berlin from Munich. He was met by striking workers at the airport and had to disguise himself.
With the country paralysed, Kapp and Lüttwitz unable to govern, and the leading generals of the army — with the exception of Ludendorff — having informed Lüttwitz that his position and action were entirely irregular and that he must resign in the interests of the country, the putsch collapsed on March 17, only four days after it had begun. Kapp fled to Sweden and Lüttwitz to Hungary.
Among the grievances which Kapp and his followers had voiced against the government were (a) that the national assembly, which had been elected to serve temporarily, was beginning to act as a permanent Reichstag; (b) that it seemed this assembly might revise the constitution with respect to the election of the President of the Republic so that the Reichstag, rather than the electorate of the country, was responsible for the President's election. There was something in these complaints, and as a consequence the date of the general election for the first republican Reichstag was hastened and was fixed for the following June, while all attempts to change the method of election for the presidency of the Republic were abandoned. "At first sight the collapse of the Kapp putsch could be viewed as a major success for the Weimar Republic. In the six days of crisis, it had retained the backing of the people of Berlin and had effectively withstood a major threat from the extreme right."
The effects of the Kapp Putsch throughout Germany were more lasting than in Berlin. On the one hand, strikes continued and led to a succession of leftist and Communist insurrections, the most serious of which was the Ruhr Uprising which was suppressed by reactionary troops and with reactionary severity in March–April 1920. On the other hand, it left a rump of military conspirators such as Col. Bauer, Maj. Pabst and Capt. Ehrhardt, who found refuge in Bavaria under the reactionary government of Gustav von Kahr (itself an indirect product of the Kapp coup) and there attempted to organize plots against the republican constitution and government of Germany. The crisis in the relations of Bavaria with the Reich (August–September 1921) which ended in von Kahr's resignation was a further phase of the same trouble.
Kapp returned to Germany in April 1922 and died the same year in prison while awaiting trial. Lüttwitz returned to Germany as part of an amnesty in 1925.
Monument to the March Dead 
Between 1920 and 1922 a monument in honour of the workers who lost their lives in the wake of the Kapp Putsch was erected in the Weimar central cemetery. The memorial was commissioned by the Weimar Gewerkschaftskartell (Union Cartel) and built according to plans submitted to a competition by the architectural office of Walter Gropius. Although Gropius maintained that the Bauhaus should remain politically neutral, he ultimately agreed to participate in the competition staged among Weimar artists at the end of 1920. The monument was arranged around an inner space, in which visitors could stand, the repeatedly fractured and highly angular memorial rose up on three sides as if thrust up from or rammed into the earth. In February 1936, the Nazis destroyed the monument due to its political overtones, and considered its design to fall under the category of degenerate art.
See also 
- Rainer Hering (2005). "Review: Der Kapp-Lüttwitz-Ludendorff-Putsch. Dokumente by Erwin Könnemann, Gerhard Schulz". German Studies Review (in German) 28 (2): 431–432.
- Anthony McElligott (2009). Weimar Germany. Oxford University Press.
- Eric D. Weitz (2005). "Review: Der Kapp-Lüttwitz-Ludendorff Putsch. Dokumente by Erwin Könnemann, Gerhard Schulze". Central European History 38 (3): 493–496.
- "Brigade Ehrhardt, 1919/20". Historisches Lexikon Bayerns (in German). 25 March 2001.
- Geoff Layton (2009). Democracy and dictatorship in Germany 1919-1963. Hodder Education.
- Heinrich August Winkler & Alexander Sager (2006). Germany: The Long Road West, Volume 1. p. 366.
- "Kapp, Wolfgang". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). 1922.
- Wasserstein, Bernard (1988). The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-04076-8.
- Nicholls, A.J. Weimar and the Rise of Hitler, London: Macmillan 2000 page 70.
- Bird, Keith Weimar, the German Naval Officer Corps and the Rise of National Socialism, Grüner, 1977 page 69.
- Richard J. Evans (September 27, 2012). "The Life and Death of a Capital". The New Republic.
- Gilbert Lupfer & Paul Sigel, Walter Gropius, 1883-1969: the promoter of a new form, p. 31.
- Erwin Könnemann, Gerhard Schulze (2002). Der Kapp-Lüttwitz-Ludendorff-Putsch. Dokumente (in German). Olzog. ISBN 3789293555.
- Johannes Erger (1967). Der Kapp-Lüttwitz-Putsch: Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Innenpolitik 1919/20. Volume 35 of Beiträge zur Geschichte des Parlamentarismus und der politschen Parteien (in German). Droste.
- Anthony McElligott (2009). Weimar Germany. Oxford University Press.
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