_FREIKORPS_ (pronounced , "Free
Corps ") were German volunteer units
that existed from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, the members of
which effectively fought as mercenaries , regardless of their own
nationality. In German-speaking countries the first so-called
_Freikorps_ "free regiments" (German : _Freie Regimenter_) were formed
in the 18th century from native volunteers, enemy renegades and
deserters, and criminals. These sometimes exotically equipped units
served as infantry and cavalry or, more rarely, as artillery .
Sometimes in just company strength, sometimes in formations up to
several thousand strong, there were also various mixed formations or
legions. The Prussian _von Kleist Freikorps_ included infantry, jäger
, dragoons , and hussars . The French
Volontaires de Saxe combined
uhlans and dragoons .
In the aftermath of
World War I
World War I and the German Revolution of
1918–19 , _Freikorps_ were raised as right-wing paramilitary
militias to fight against the Soviet-backed German Communists
attempting to overthrow the
Weimar Republic . "They engaged in bloody
confrontations with republican loyalists and engineered some of the
more notorious assassinations" of the Weimar period, and are widely
seen as a "precursor to Nazism". An entire series of
* 1 Origins
* 2 Napoleonic era
* 3 1815–1871
* 4 Post-
World War I
World War I
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 External links
Serbian, Wurmser, Odonel and Mahony Free
Corps in 1798
The very first _Freikorps_ were recruited by Frederick the Great
during the Seven Years\' War . On 15 July 1759, Frederick ordered the
creation of a squadron of volunteer hussars to be attached to the 1st
Regiment of Hussars (von Kleist's Own). He entrusted the creation and
command of this new unit to Colonel Friedrich Wilhelm von Kleist. This
first squadron (80 men) was raised in
Dresden and consisted mainly of
Hungarian deserters. This squadron was placed under the command of
Lieutenant Johann Michael von Kovacs. At the end of 1759, the first 4
squadrons of dragoons (a.k.a. horse-grenadiers) of the _Freikorps_
were organised. They initially consisted of Prussian volunteers from
Magdeburg , Mecklenburg and
Leipzig but later recruited
deserters. The _Freikorps_ were regarded as unreliable by regular
armies, so they were mainly used as sentries and for minor duties.
These early _Freikorps_ appeared during the War of the Austrian
Succession and especially the Seven Years\' War , when France, Prussia
Habsburg Monarchy embarked on an escalation of petty warfare
while conserving their regular regiments. Even during the last
Kabinettskrieg , the
War of the Bavarian Succession , _Freikorp_
formations were formed in 1778. Germans,
South Slavs , as well as Turks ,
were believed by all warring parties to be inherently good fighters.
The nationality of many soldiers can no longer be ascertained as the
ethnic origin was often described imprecisely in the regimental lists.
Slavs (Serbs, Croats) were often referred to as "Hungarians" or
"Croats", and Muslim recruits (
Bosnians , Tatars) as
For Prussia, the Pandurs , who were made up of Serbs and Croats, were
a clear model for the organization of such "free" troops. Frederick
the Great created 14 "free infantry " (_Frei-Infanterie_) units,
mainly between 1756 and 1758, which were intended to be attractive to
those soldiers who wanted military "adventure", but did not want to
have to do military drill. A distinction should be made between the
_Freikorps_ formed up to 1759 for the final years of the war, which
operated independently and disrupted the enemy with surprise attacks
and the free infantry which consisted of various military branches
(such as infantry, hussars, dragoons, _jäger_) and were used in
combination. They were often used to ward off
Maria Theresa 's
Pandurs. In the era of linear tactics , light troops had been seen
necessary for outpost, reinforcement and reconnaissance duties. During
the war, eight such volunteer corps were set up:
* Trümbach 's _Freikorps_ (Voluntaires de Prusse) (FI)
* Kleist 's _Freikorps_ (FII)
* Glasenapp 's Free Dragoons (F III)
* Schony's _Freikorps_ (F IV)
* Gschray's _Freikorps_ (F V)
* Bauer 's Free Hussars (F VI)
* Légion Britannique (FV - of the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg
* Volontaires Auxiliaires (F VI).
Because, with some exceptions, they were seen as undisciplined and
less battleworthy, they were used for less onerous guard and garrison
duties. In the so-called "petty wars", the _Freikorps_ interdicted
enemy supply lines with guerrilla warfare . In the case of capture,
their members were at risk of being executed as irregular fighters. In
Prussia the _Freikorps_, which
Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great had despised as
"vermin", were disbanded. Their soldiers were given no entitlement to
pensions or invalidity payments.
In France, many corps continued to exist until 1776. They were
attached to regular dragoon regiments as _jäger_ squadrons . During
Napoleonic Wars , Austria recruited various _Freikorps_ of Slavic
origin. The Slavonic Wurmser _Freikorps_ fought in Alsace. The combat
effectiveness of the six Viennese _Freikorps_ (37,000 infantrymen and
cavalrymen), however, was low. An exception were the border regiments
of Croats and Serbs who served permanently on the Austro-Ottoman
Painting of three famous Free
Corps members in 1815: Heinrich
Hartmann , Theodor Körner , and
_Freikorps_ in the modern sense emerged in Germany during the course
Napoleonic Wars . They fought not so much for money but rather
out of patriotic motives, seeking to shake off the French
Confederation of the Rhine . After the French under Emperor Napoleon
had either conquered the German states or forced them to collaborate,
remnants of the defeated armies continued to fight on in this fashion.
Famous formations included the King\'s German Legion , who had fought
for Britain in French-occupied Spain and were mainly recruited from
Hanoverians, the Lützow Free
Corps and the
Black Brunswickers .
The _Freikorps_ attracted many nationally disposed citizens and
students. _Freikorps_ commanders such as
Ferdinand von Schill , Ludwig
Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow or Frederick William, Duke of
Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel , known as the "Black Duke", led their own
attacks on Napoleonic occupation forces in Germany. Those led by
Schill were decimated in the
Battle of Stralsund (1809) ; many were
killed in battle or executed at Napoleon's command in the aftermath.
The _Freikorps_ were very popular during the period of the German War
of Liberation (1813–15), during which von Lützow, a survivor of
Schill's _Freikorps_, formed his Lützow Free Corps. The
anti-Napoleonic _Freikorps_ often operated behind French lines as a
kind of commando or guerrilla force.
Throughout the 19th century, these anti-Napoleonic _Freikorps_ were
greatly praised and glorified by German nationalists, and a heroic
myth built up around their exploits. This myth was invoked, in
considerably different circumstances, in the aftermath of Germany's
World War I
World War I .
Even in the aftermath of the Napoleonic era, _Freikorps_ were set up
with varying degrees of success.
During the March 1848 riots, student _Freikorps_ were set up in
First Schleswig War
First Schleswig War of 1848 the _Freikorps_ of _von der Tann_ ,
_Zastrow_ and others distinguished themselves.
In 1864 in
Mexico , the French formed the so-called
_Contreguerrillas_ under former Prussian hussar officer, Milson. In
Italy Garibaldi formed his famous _Freischars _, notably the "Thousand
of Marsala", which landed in
Sicily in 1860.
Even before the
Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, _Freikorps_ were
France that were known as franc-tireurs .
POST-WORLD WAR I
The meaning of the word _Freikorps_ changed over time. After 1918,
the term was used for the paramilitary organizations that sprang up
around Germany as soldiers returned in defeat from
World War I
World War I . They
were the key
Weimar paramilitary groups active during that time. Many
German veterans felt disconnected from civilian life, and joined a
_Freikorps_ in search of stability within a military structure.
Others, angry at their sudden, apparently inexplicable defeat, joined
up in an effort to put down communist uprisings, such as the
Spartacist uprising , or exact some form of revenge on those they
considered responsible for the armistice . They received considerable
support from Minister of Defense
Gustav Noske , a member of the Social
Democratic Party of Germany . Noske used them to crush the German
Revolution of 1918–19 and the
Spartacist League , including
Karl Liebknecht and
Rosa Luxemburg , who were killed on 15
January 1919. They were also used to defeat the Bavarian Soviet
Republic in May 1919.
On 5 May 1919, members of _Freikorps_ Lützow in Perlach near Munich
, acted on a tip from a local cleric and arrested and killed twelve
alleged communist workers (most of them actually members of the Social
Democratic Party). A memorial on Pfanzeltplatz in
commemorates the incident. A recruitment poster for the
_Freikorps_ also fought against the communists in the Baltics ,
East Prussia after the end of World War I,
including aviation combat, often with significant success. Anti-Slavic
racism was sometimes present, although the ethnic cleansing ideology
and anti-Semitism that would be expressed in later years had not yet
developed. In the Baltics they fought against communists as well as
against the newborn independent democratic countries
Latvia . In Latvia,
Freikorps murdered 300 civilians in Mitau who were
suspected of having "
Bolshevik sympathies". After the capture of Riga
, another 3000 alleged communists were killed, including summary
executions of 50–60 prisoners daily. Though officially disbanded in
1920, some of them continued to exist for several years and many
Freikorps' attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the government in
Kapp Putsch in March 1920. Their attack was halted when German
citizens loyal to the government went on strike, cutting off many
services and making daily life so problematic that the coup was called
Adolf Hitler had just begun his political career as the
leader of the tiny and as-yet-unknown Deutsche Arbeiterpartei/DAP
German Workers\' Party , which was soon renamed the
Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei/NSDAP (National
Socialist German Workers Party) or
Nazi Party in Munich. Numerous
future members and leaders of the
Nazi Party had served in the
Ernst Röhm , future head of the Sturmabteilung
, or SA,
Heinrich Himmler , future head of the
Schutzstaffel , or SS,
Rudolf Höß , the future _Kommandant_ of the Auschwitz
concentration camp .
Hermann Ehrhardt , founder and leader of
Marinebrigade Ehrhardt , and his deputy Commander Eberhard Kautter,
leaders of the
Viking League , refused to help Hitler and Erich
Ludendorff in their
Beer Hall Putsch and conspired against them.
Hitler eventually viewed some of them as threats. A huge ceremony was
arranged on 9 November 1933 in which the _Freikorps_ leaders
symbolically presented their old battle flags to Hitler's SA and SS.
It was a sign of allegiance to their new authority, the Nazi state.
When Hitler's internal purge of the party, the Night of the Long
Knives , came in 1934, a large number of
Freikorps leaders were
targeted for killing or arrest, including Ehrhardt and Röhm.
Historian Robert GL Waite claims that in Hitler's "Röhm Purge" speech
to the _Reichstag_ on 13 July 1934, he implied that the
one of the groups of "pathological enemies of the state".
Friekorps artillery, c.1919
Freikorps soldiers pictured
Kapp Putsch of 1920
* IRON DIVISION (Eiserne Division, related to Eiserne Brigade and
Baltische Landeswehr )
* Fought in the Baltic.
* Defeated by the
Estonian Army in the Battle of Cēsis
* Trapped in
Thorensberg by the
Latvian Army . Rescued by the
* VOLUNTEER DIVISION OF HORSE GUARDS
Rosa Luxemburg and
Karl Liebknecht , 15 January 1919
* Led by Captain
* Disbanded on order of Defence Minister
Gustav Noske , 7 July 1919,
after Pabst threatened to kill him
* FREIKORPS CASPARI
* Fought against the
Bremen Soviet Republic
* Fought under the command of
* FREIKORPS LICHTSCHLAG
* Fought against the
Red Ruhr Army
* Fought under the command of
Oskar von Watter
* FREIKORPS LüTZOW
Munich following the revolution of April 1919.
* Commanded by Major Schulz
* MARINEBRIGADE EHRHARDT (The Second Naval Brigade)
* Participated in the
Kapp Putsch of 1920
* Disbanded members eventually formed the
Organisation Consul ,
which performed hundreds of political assassinations
* FREIKORPS MAERCKER (Maercker's Volunteer Rifles, or Freiwilliges
Reinhard Heydrich as a member
* Founded by
* FREIKORPS OBERLAND
* Kurt Benson
* FREIKORPS ROßBACH (Rossbach)
* Founded by
* Rescued the Iron Division after an extremely long march across
Rudolph Hoess as a member.
* SUDETENDEUTSCHES FREIKORPS
* Formed by Czech German nationalists with Nazi sympathies which
operated from 1938 to 1939
* Part of Hitler's successful effort to absorb Czechoslovakia into
the Third Reich
* List of defunct
* List of Free
List of Freikorps members
* List of
Freikorps in the Baltic
Battle of Annaberg
Viking League related
Free company Medieval units with some similarities
* ^ Background, formation and numbering according to Bleckwenn
(1986) Vol. IV, pp. 82ff
* ^ Carlos Caballero Jurado, Ramiro Bujeiro (2001). _The German
Freikorps 1918–23: 1918–23_. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-184-2
Max Hirschberg & Reinhard Weber. _Jude und Demokrat:
Erinnerungen eines Münchener Rechtsanwalts 1883 bis 1939_.
* ^ Morris, _Justice Imperiled: The Anti-Nazi Lawyer Max Hirschberg
in Weimar Germany_
Freikorps Lützow in the _Axis History Factbook_
* ^ Michael Mann, _Fascists_, Cambridge/New York: Cambridge
University, 2004, ISBN 9780521831314 , p. 153.
* ^ A Brief History of the Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps
Blazed a Trail for Hitler Nigel Jones, Carroll Fielden, Philip (2007).
_Republic to Reich: A History of Germany 1918–1939_ (Third ed.).
Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia. p. 28.
* ^ Waite , p. 197.
* ^ Waite , pp. 280–1.
See also the full text of the speech at
http://members.tripod.com/~Comicism/340713.html * ^ Osprey - Elite
76 - The German
Freikorps 1918-23. 2001. (page 20)
* ^ _A_ _B_ Waite , p. 131, 132.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Waite , p. 62.
* ^ Waite , p. 145.
* ^ Waite , p. 89.
* ^ Waite , pp. 140–2.
* ^ Waite , p. 203, 216.
* ^ Waite , pp. 33–7.
* ^ "Axis History Factbook". Retrieved 3 January 2009.
* ^ Mueller, p 61
* Blanke, Richard (1993). _Orphans of Versailles: The
Western Poland, 1918–1939_. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN
* Eley, Geoff (1990). "Conservatives and radical nationalists in
Germany: the production of fascist potentials, 1912–28". In
Blinkhorn, Martin. _Fascists and Conservatives: The Radical Right and
the Establishment in Twentieth-Century Europe_. New York, NY:
Routledge . pp. 50–70. ISBN 978-0-049-40087-0 .
* Gerwarth, Robert (2008). "The Central European Counter-Revolution:
Paramilitary Violence in Germany, Austria and Hungary after the Great
War". _Past & Present _. 200 (1): 175–209. doi :10.1093/pastj/gtm046
* Hoess, Rudolf; Fitzgibbon, Constantine; Levi, Primo (2000).
_Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess_.
Translated by Constantine Fitzgibbon,
Joachim Neugroschel . Sterling
Publishing. ISBN 1-84212-024-7 .
* Koepp, Roy G. (2010). _Conservative Radicals: The Einwohnerwehr,
Bund Bayern Und Reich, and the Limits of
Paramilitary Politics in
Bavaria, 1918–1928_ (PhD). Lincoln, NE:
University of Nebraska .
* Kolko, Gabriel (1994). _Century of War: Politics, Conflicts, and
Society since 1914_. New York, NY:
The New Press . ISBN
* Morris, Douglas G. (2005). _Justice Imperiled: The Anti-Nazi
Max Hirschberg in Weimar Germany_. University of Michigan