The designation of Freikorps (German for "Free Corps") was originally applied to voluntary armies formed in German lands from the middle of 18th century onwards. After World War I the term was used for the paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Weimar Germany and fought against Weimar enemies (internal and external).

First Freikorps

The first freikorps were recruited by Frederick II of Prussia in the eighteenth century during the Seven Years' War. Other known freikorps appeared during the Napoleonic Wars and were led for example by Ferdinand von Schill and later Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow. The freikorps were regarded as unreliable by regular armies, so that they were mainly used as sentries and for minor duties.

Post-World War I

However, the meaning of the word 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. 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 or exact some form of revenge (see Dolchstoßlegende). They received considerable support from Minister of Defense Gustav Noske, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, who used them to crush the German Revolution and the Marxist Spartacist League, including the summary execution of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on 15 January 1919. They were also used to defeat the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919. [citebook|title=The German Freikorps 1918-23: 1918-23|author=Carlos Caballero Jurado, Ramiro Bujeiro|year=2001|publisher=Osprey Publishing
id=ISBN 1841761842

On 5 May 1919 twelve workers (most of the members of the Social Democratic Party, SPD) were arrested and killed by members of Freikorps Lützow in Perlach near Munich based on a tip from a local cleric saying they were communists. A memorial on Pfanzeltplatz in Munich today commemorates this atrocity. [citebook|title=Jude und Demokrat: Erinnerungen eines Münchener Rechtsanwalts 1883 bis 1939|author=Max Hirschberg & Reinhard Webercitebook|title=Justice Imperiled: The Anti-Nazi Lawyer Max Hirschberg in Weimar Germany|author=Douglas G. Morrisr [ Freikorps Lützow] , Axis History Factbook]

Freikorps also fought in the Baltic, Silesia, and Prussia after the end of World War I, sometimes with significant success.

Though officially 'disbanded' in 1920, many Freikorps attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the government in the Kapp Putsch in March 1920.

In 1920, Adolf Hitler had just begun his political career as the leader of the tiny and as-yet-unknown German Workers Party (soon renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party, NSDAP) in Munich. Numerous future members and leaders of the Nazi Party had served in the Freikorps, including Ernst Röhm, future head of the Sturmabteilung, or SA, and 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 von Ludendorff in their Beer Hall Putsch and conspired against them.

In 1939, during the Polish September Campaign, Germans created the Freikorps Ebbinghaus - a sabotage unit, consisting of many German Silesians, which was designed to operate behind the frontlines. Freikorps Ebbinghaus failed in most of those tasks, and was relegated to normal military duties, before being disbanded later that year. [Richard Blanke, "Orphans of Versailles: The Germans in Western Poland, 1918-1939", University Press of Kentucky, 1993, ISBN 081311803, [ Google Print, p.229] ]

Notable Freikorps members

*Rudolph Berthold
*Martin Bormann
*Wilhelm Canaris
*Kurt Daluege
*Oskar Dirlewanger
*Arthur Greiser
*Reinhard Heydrich
*Wilhelm Keitel
*Ernst von Salomon
*Manfred Freiherr von Killinger
*Wilhelm Friedrich Loeper
*Josef “Beppo” Römer KPD Member
*Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf SA member
*Albert Leo Schlageter
*Julius Schreck SS Leader
*Hugo Sperrle Luftwaffe General
*Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, Right wing Austrian politician
*Gregor Strasser NSDAP Member


External links

* [ Axis History Factbook; Freikorps section] – By Marcus Wendel and contributors; site also contains an apolitical forum
* [ Freikorps Master list on Axis History Forum {reference only}]

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