March 13th, 1920 – The Kapp Putsch Coup of Germany

The Kapp Putsch, also known as the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch after its leaders Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz, was an attempted coup on March 13th, 1920 which aimed to undo the German Revolution of 1918–1919, overthrow the Weimar Republic and establish a right-wing autocratic government in its place. It was supported by parts of the Reichswehr (military) and other conservative, nationalist and monarchist factions.

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The coup took place in the capital, Berlin, and the legitimate German government was forced to flee the city. The reluctance to shed blood was one-sided. On the evening of March 12th, Ehrhardt ordered his brigade to march into Berlin, to “ruthlessly break any resistance” (jeden Widerstand rücksichtslos zu brechen) and to occupy the centre of the city with the government buildings. The Brigade, sporting swastikas on their helmets and vehicles, started off towards Berlin at around 10:00 pm. An hour later the Gruppenkommando knew about it and informed Noske. Two general officers met Ehrhardt and convinced him to give the government a chance to surrender before being taken into custody, assuming that all of Lüttwitz’ demands were accepted by 7:00 am. This was reported to Noske who met with Ebert. Ebert then called a cabinet meeting for 4:00 am. At 1:00 am Noske asked the senior commanders to his office in the Bendlerblock.

Gustav Noske

Walther von Lüttwitz (center) and Gustav Noske (right), c. 1920

Noske asked the commanders to defend the government buildings but was turned down. All but two of the officers (one of them was Reinhardt, Chef der Heeresleitung) refused to follow an order to shoot at the rebel troops. Some suggested negotiations, others claimed that the troops would not understand an order to fire, some argued that the regular units would not be able to defeat the elite Marinebrigade. Seeckt spoke about comradeship. His exact words were not recorded, but have been reported as: “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.” Others have quoted Seeckt’s words as the even more succinct: “Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr!”

Noske, depressed enough by the disloyalty of the military to speak about suicide to an aide, reported to the cabinet at 4:00 am. At a confused meeting at the Reichskanzlei, the undefended cabinet took two decisions: to flee the city and to issue a call for a general strike. These were not unanimous, the Vice-Chancellor Eugen Schiffer and some of the other non-SPD ministers refused to leave the city, to preserve the opportunity to negotiate with the putschists. Only Ebert and the SPD ministers signed the call for a general strike. At 6:15 am they had to interrupt the meeting and flee. Within ten minutes of their departure, the Marinebrigade reached the Brandenburger Tor, where it was met by Lüttwitz, Ludendorff, Kapp and their followers. Shortly thereafter, Kapp’s men moved into the Reichskanzlei. Supported by a battalion of regular Reichswehr, they occupied the government quarter.

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Putschists in Berlin. The banner warns: “Stop! Whosoever proceeds will be shot”

Kapp declared himself Chancellor (Reichskanzler) and formed a provisional government. Lüttwitz served as commander of the armed forces and Minister of Defence. 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.

The coup failed after a few days, when large sections of the German population followed a call by the government to join a general strike. Most civil servants refused to cooperate with Kapp and his allies. Despite its failure, the putsch had significant consequences for the future of the Weimar Republic. It was the cause of the left-wing Ruhr Uprising of March 1920, which the government suppressed by military force, whilst dealing leniently with those behind the putsch. These events polarized the electorate, resulting in a shift in the majority after the June Reichstag elections.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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