Weimar paramilitary groups

From Academic Kids

Paramilitary groups were formed throughout the Weimar Republic in the wake of the Germany's defeat in World War I and the ensuing German Revolution. Some were created by political parties to help in recruiting, discipline and in preparation for seizing power. Some were created before WWI. These party operated ‘’Wehrverbände’’ were used to instill fear and terror in their opponents. Others were formed by individuals after the war and were naturally called "Freikorps" (Free corps). The party affliated groups and others were all outside government control but the Freikorps units were under government control, supply and pay (usually through army sources).

After WWI, the German Army was restricted to 100,000 men so that there were a great amount of soldiers suddenly de-mobilized. Many of these men were hardened into a character called ‘’Frontgemeinschaft’’ front line spirit. It was a spirit of camaderie that was formed due to the length and horrors of trench warfare of WWI. These paramilitary groups filled a necessary need for many of these soldiers who suddenly lost their "family". Many of these soldiers were filled with angst, anger and frustration over the loss and horror of the war.

These paramilitary groups were quite active in the ill-fated Republic, sometimes used to seize power and other times to quell disturbances. Freikorps were used in the Baltic region in 1919 by General von der Goltz to protect German interests against Russia. Other Freikorps members engaged in sabotage acts against French and Belgian occupying forces in the Ruhr in 1923 by blowing up bridges. Other freikorps orchestrated the Kapp putsch and the Beer Hall Putsch. The Communists used their groups to seize power in several places in the Weimar Republic at different times forming Räterepubliken. Other paramilitary groups were used to quell these uprisings. Freikorps events are displayed in the Weimar Timeline.

The political parties used their paramilitary groups to protect their party gatherings and to disrupt the marches and meetings of their opponents. Between 1928 to 1932, the Weimar Republic experienced a growth of political violence between these organizations called Zusammenstösse. For instance in 1930, the Nazis claimed 17 fatalities and the Communists 44 fatalities in these Zusammenstössen. Scores were injured; in 1930, 2,500 Nazis were injured and in 1932, 9,715. (1)


Party Affliated

KPD paramilitary groups
Roter FrontKämpferbund (Red Front Fighter’s League)
Young Antifascist Guard
Fighting League Against Fascism
Anti-Fascist Action Group

NSDAP paramilitary groups
Sturmabteilung (SA) or Storm troopers.
Stosstrupp; It was later changed to Schutzstaffel. The SS was originally Adolf Hitler's personal body guard unit.

SPD paramilitary groups
Schwarz, Rot, Gold, Reichsbanner (Black Red Gold); It was later changed to Iron Front.


Freikorps were the brainchild of Major Kurt von Schleicher. The Freikorps were also called the "Black Reichswehr" for they were a 'secret' army outside the bounds of the Versaille Treaty. The idea was developed after the failure of an army unit to quell a small rebellion outside Berlin at the Battle of the Schloss. The army unit confronted by a socialist group with women and children, threw down their weapons and either ran away or joined the protest group. This led Major von Schleicher to conceive an alternative to using Reichswehr units to quell "red" (socialist or communist) uprisings. He suggested to his superiors to form volunteer units recruited from the old Reichswehr and commanded by former Imperial officers under governmental control. This way the Reichswehr would avoid the stigma of having to fire on civilians and the government would be financially supporting these freikorps, leaving the Reichswehr to concentrate on training for real battle. Men who joined these units were called "Freebooters". The central Berlin government thought along with the central Reichswehr command that by paying and arming these 'black' soldiers, they might be able 'to tie them to the crib' and thus render them harmless.

The first organizer of a Freikorps unit was General Ludwig Maercker. His unit, the "Maercker Volunteer Rifles", were soon called to rush from city to city stamping out red uprisings. Because his unit was called upon to every corner of Germany, he hit upon the idea of forming Einwohnerwehren, local citizen militias to keep the peace. Later on, these groups grew into the Orgesch, (Organization Escherich) reserve militia units for the German Werhmahct. They were under the command of Major Dr. Forstrat Georg Eschrich.

Other units are:

Freikorps von Luettwitz named and commanded by General Baron Walter von Luettwitz. This was an umbrella group with the following groups under it.
Potsdam Freikorps with 1,200 veterans
remnants of the Guards Rifle Cavalry Division
Reinhard Freikorps commanded by Colonel Wilhelm Reinhard.
Freikorps Suppe (a separate unit under the Reinhard Freikorps) with 1,500 men
von Roeder's Scouts
Iron Brigade from Kiel
Kuntzel Freikorps
Ostara League
Oberland League
Ehrhardt Brigade. They were the first to use the swastika as a unit symbol. They participated in the Kapp Putsch which quelled the Berlin Räterepublik.
Viking League

Other Paramilitary Groups

Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten (Steel Helmet, League of Front Soldiers) led by Theodor Duesterberg. It had about 500,000 members. It was loosely tied to the DNVP and the DVP. It was the largest nationalist ex-servicemen’s organization. The Stahlhelm organized an employment service for its unemployed working-class members and a housing program.

Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund (Pan-German Folk Defense and Offense League)

Jungdeutscher Orden Led by Artur Mahraun. He distanced his group from the Nazis because his group was fundamentally hostile to political parties.

Kampfbund (Battle League) was an umbrella group involving NSDAP paramilitary groups and a freikorp group. It was created on 30 September 1923.


  1. The History of Fascism 1914-1945, Stanley G. Payne, University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. pg 171

See also


  • Vanguard of Nazism: The Free Corps Movement in Postwar Germany 1918-1923, Robert G. L. Waite, Cambridge, Mass., l952.

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