Free Corps

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As a free corps or volunteer corps ( French : corps , "body"; from Latin : corpus , "body"), paramilitary units were named regardless of their national origin until the beginning of the 20th century . In the German-speaking area, free regiments of local volunteers, opposing defectors, deserters and delinquents were set up for the first time in the 18th century under the name "Freikorps". The troops, sometimes with exotic equipment, served as infantry and cavalry , less often as artillery . Sometimes only in company strength , sometimes up to several thousand men, there were also mixed associations or legions composed of various branches of arms . The Prussian Freikorps von Kleist included infantry, hunters , dragoons and hussars . The French Volontaires de Saxe united Uhlans and Dragoons.


Freikorps in the 18th century

The free formations experienced their first high phase in the War of the Austrian Succession and especially in the Seven Years War , when France and Prussia, but also the Habsburg Monarchy, wanted to expand the Little War and to spare the regular regiments. Free formations were also set up in 1778 in the last cabinet war, the War of the Bavarian Succession . Above all Germans , Hungarians , Poles , Lithuanians and Southern Slavs , but also Turks , Tatars and Cossacks were valued by all warring parties as supposedly naturally tried and tested fighters. The origin of many soldiers can no longer be deciphered without a doubt, as the ethnic origin was often imprecisely described in the regimental lists. Slavs were often referred to as “Hungarians” or “Croats”, and Muslim recruits (Albanians, Bosnians, Tatars) as “Turks”.

For Prussia, the Pandours and Croats were definitely a model for the organization of such free troops. Frederick II created 14 free infantry units between 1756 and 1758 , which were intended to be attractive to those who enjoyed military “adventure” but wanted to be free from military drill. A distinction is made between the "Free Corps", which were only formed from 1759 for the last years of the war, which also operated independently and disturbed the enemy with surprising attacks. In contrast to the free infantry, they consisted of several branches of arms (such as infantry, hussars, dragoons, hunters) and were used together. They were often used to ward off Maria Theresa's Pandours . In the age of linear tactics , light troops were required for outpost, security and reconnaissance tasks. In the course of the war, several such free corps were set up, eight in all:

Since, with exceptions, they were considered undisciplined and not very strong, they were used for subordinate guard and garrison services. In the so-called Little War, volunteer corps disrupted the enemy’s supply lines in guerrilla actions. If captured, their relatives run the risk of being killed as irregular fighters. In Prussia, the Freikorps, which Frederick II despised as "rubbish", were dissolved. Their soldiers were not entitled to pension or disability benefits.

Many corps existed in France until 1776. Then they were attached to the regular dragoon regiments as fighter squadrons . Austria recruited various Freikorps of Slavic origin during the French Revolutionary Wars . The Austrian-Styrian Freikorps Wurmser fought in Alsace. The combat value of the six Vienna Freikorps (around 37,000 infantrymen and cavalrymen), on the other hand, was low. The border regiments of Croats and Serbs, who were permanently on the Austrian- Ottoman border, were a special case .

During the War of the Bavarian Succession , four more Freikorps were set up on the Prussian side, named after their respective leaders: Hordt , Schlichten , Münster and Pollitz .

Freikorps at the time of the Napoleonic occupation of Germany (1806-1815)

Freikorps in the modern sense emerged in Germany during the Napoleonic Wars . They fought less for a living than for patriotic motives. After the French, led by Emperor Napoleon I , either conquered the German states or forced them to collaborate, remnants of the defeated troops continued the fight. The Lützow Freikorps and the Black Squad became famous . Many nationally minded citizens and students joined the Freikorps. Freikorps leaders like Ferdinand von Schill , Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow or Friedrich Wilhelm von Braunschweig-Lüneburg-Oels , known as the “Black Duke”, took action against the Napoleonic occupation forces in Germany on their own. The Freikorps were very popular at the time of the Wars of Liberation in 1813–1815. For this purpose, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn wanted to train the gymnasts as guerrilla fighters (who had been invented shortly before in Spain in the fight against Napoleon) so that they could join the Freikorps.

Between 1815 and 1871

In the period that followed, Freikorps were set up with varying degrees of success.

During the March unrest in 1848, student volunteer corps were set up in Munich.

In the Schleswig-Holstein War of 1848, the Freikorps von der Tann , Zastrow and others distinguished themselves .

In Mexico , the French formed so-called contreguerrillas in 1864 under the former Prussian hussar officer Milson . In Italy Garibaldi formed his famous troopers , among them especially the “ Train of Thousands ”, which landed in Sicily in 1860 .

Even before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, free corps, called Franc-tireurs , were developing in France .

Freikorps after the First World War (1918–1923)

Members of the Ehrhardt Marine Brigade during the Kapp Putsch
Reichswehr Minister Noske visits the Hülsen Freikorps in Berlin in January 1919
The Guard Cavalry Rifle Division moves into the city after the defeat of the Munich Soviet Republic
Advertising poster of the Freikorps Hülsen
Poster of the German Protection Division (1919)
Anniversary celebration of the Lützow Freikorps in Zossen 1920
Flag ceremony of the former Brüssow Freikorps, 1934 in Berlin. Among the participants are several members of the Sturmabteilung in uniform

When the hopeless situation of the German Reich in World War I became apparent in the autumn of 1918 and the government under Chancellor Max von Baden tried to initiate armistice negotiations, mutinies broke out, beginning with the Kiel sailors' uprising , which turned into revolutionary uprisings. On November 9, 1918, Chancellor Max von Baden arbitrarily announced the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and handed over the power of government to the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert . On the same day, the Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the German republic; two hours later, Karl Liebknecht , the leader of the communist Spartakusbund , proclaimed a socialist republic that was to be based on Soviet Russia . Scheidemann and Ebert wanted Germany to be rebuilt on a democratic-parliamentary basis and, together with the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, formed the Council of People's Representatives as a transitional government that would rule until the general elections.

Since the Council of People's Representatives, headed by Friedrich Ebert , had no military means of power, it allied itself with the remaining Supreme Army Command and wanted to stabilize the situation with the troops from the front. However, most of the repatriated troops quickly disbanded at home, partly under the influence of revolutionary forces. It was therefore decided to dismiss all soldiers from the divisions that had been returned, except for the cadre, and to replenish them with volunteers. In addition, mostly younger frontline officers, but also private individuals, pushed ahead with the formation of troop units made up of former soldiers and unserved volunteers. These associations were called Freikorps.

On behalf of the Council of People's Representatives and the Reich government, these Freikorps fought the radical left uprisings and secured the borders in the east of the German Reich. In 1919 they also fought in the Baltic States, with temporary support from Great Britain, against advancing Soviet Russian troops and against the Estonians and Latvians, who were initially allied with the Germans. From April to May 1919 the Freikorps were also instrumental in the particularly bloody suppression of the Munich Soviet Republic .

By Gunther in May there was in the early phase of the Weimar Republic about 365 volunteer corps of very different character: the members were officers, students or other volunteers, partly mercenaries were similar. Since the large number of different military units, all of which were subordinate to the military command authorities of the Reich, were completely different in their internal structure and, in particular, in their basic political attitude, the military leadership endeavored to achieve standardization. On March 6, 1919, the "Law on the Provisional Reichswehr" was promulgated and the existing military units - including the Freikorps - gradually transferred to the Reichswehr brigades to be formed . The provisional Reichswehr comprised around 400,000 men. The decree of the Reichswehr Minister Noske also decreed on May 27, 1919 that the associations that were not planned to be included in the Provisional Reichswehr could no longer be used by the military authorities to provide services. Due to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles , the Weimar Republic was only allowed to maintain an army of 100,000 men on January 1, 1921. Thus the military units had to be gradually disarmed. On the other hand, resistance arose in the ranks of those who were threatened with dismissal. This and other reasons led to the Kapp Putsch in mid-March 1920 , which collapsed after 5 days as a result of a general strike and the refusal of the officials to obey the orders of the putschists.

The history of the Freikorps thus ended in March 1920. The units not taken over into the Reichswehr mostly formed so-called military units or found accommodation with paramilitary units, such as the Stahlhelm or the SA . The successor groups of the Freikorps were active in the resident defense , fought in the self-protection of Upper Silesia during the Upper Silesian uprisings and were responsible for a number of political murders in the Weimar Republic . The most famous victims include Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht , co-founders of the Communist Party of Germany , who were murdered by officers of the Guard Cavalry Rifle Division in mid-January 1919 . In addition, members of the disbanded Ehrhardt Marine Brigade , which formed in the Consul organization, murdered the former Finance Minister Matthias Erzberger on August 26, 1921 and the incumbent Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau on June 24, 1922 . Between 1918 and 1922, 354 people were murdered by members of the Freikorps.

A special feature was the technical emergency aid (TN), a semi-public institution at the Reich Ministry of the Interior that emerged from the technical department of the Guard Cavalry Rifle Division and similar technical groups of the Freikorps . It was first used to combat strikes in vital establishments and make them work. In contrast to the armed volunteer corps, it existed well beyond the troubled first five years of the Weimar Republic until 1945. The way in which the participants worked and organized them were a model for the technical relief organization in 1950 .

Not to be confused with the Freikorps are military or paramilitary units of the Weimar Republic, which trace their formation back to a different basis:

Associations such as the Baltic State Armed Forces , the West Russian Liberation Army , the Baltic Regiment or the German Legion also do not belong to the German Freikorps, even if Germans were active in them as individuals or in closed formations.

Well-known Freikorps

Well-known free corps leaders and members

Teutonic Knights Cross (Randow Cross)

Free corps awards

Numerous different medals and awards were given to the fighters of the Freikorps. Only two of them, the Baltic Cross and the Silesian Eagle , received state permission to wear them.

See also



  • Rüdiger Bergien : Republic Protectors or Terrorists? The Freikorps movement in Germany after the First World War . In: Military History , Issue 3/2008, MGFA 2008, ISSN  0940-4163 .
  • Dieter Dreetz, Klaus Gessner, Heinz Sperlin: Armed fighting in Germany 1918–1923 . Berlin ( Military Publishing House of the German Democratic Republic ) 1988. ISBN 3-327-00511-7 .
  • Ingo G. Haarcke: Catalog of the uniform badges of the German Freikorps 1918–1923 . Hauschild, Bremen 2011, ISBN 978-3-89757-500-4 .
  • Dietrich Heither : »I knew what I was doing. Emil Julius Gumbel and right-wing terror in the Weimar Republic «, PapyRossa-Verlag 2016, ISBN 978-3-894386-21-4 .
  • Nigel H. Jones: Hitler's Heralds. The Story of the Freikorps 1918–1923 . London 1987.
  • Peter Keller: "The Wehrmacht of the German Republic is the Reichswehr". The German Army 1918–1921 , Paderborn (Schöningh) 2014. ISBN 3-506-77969-9 .
  • Hannsjoachim W. Koch: The German Civil War. A History of the German and Austrian Freikorps 1918–1923 . Ullstein, Frankfurt a. M. / Berlin 1978, ISBN 3-550-07379-8 .
  • Ingo Korzetz: The Freikorps in the Weimar Republic. Freedom fighters or mercenaries? Establishment, deployment and nature of the Bavarian Freikorps 1918–1920 . Tectum-Verlag, Marburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-8288-9851-6 .
  • Gabriele Krüger: The Ehrhardt Brigade . Hamburg 1971.
  • Jan-Philipp Pomplun: Germ cells of National Socialism? Social-historical aspects and personal continuities of south-west German volunteer corps . In: Daniel Schmidt, Michael Sturm , Massimiliano Livi (Hrsg.): Wegbereiter des Nationalozialismus. People, organizations and networks of the extreme right between 1918 and 1933 (= series of publications by the Institute for City History . Vol. 19). Klartext, Essen 2015, ISBN 978-3-8375-1303-5 , pp. 73 ff.
  • Jan-Philipp Pomplun: The emergence of the free corps in the revolution of 1918/19 . In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft, 66th year 2018, issue 10, pp. 813–825.
  • Bernhard Sauer: "Off to Upper Silesia". The fighting of the German Freikorps in 1921 in Upper Silesia and the other former German eastern provinces . In: ZfG , Volume 58, 2010, pp. 297-320.
  • Bernhard Sauer: Freikorps and anti-Semitism in the early days of the Weimar Republic . In: Rundbrief , 2006, 4, pp. 25–33.
  • Bernhard Sauer: On the "Myth of Eternal Soldierhood". The German Freikorps campaign in the Baltic States in 1919 . In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft , Volume 43, 1995, pp. 869-902.
  • Bernhard Sauer: Freikorps and anti-Semitism in the early days of the Weimar Republic . (PDF; 119 kB) In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft , 56th year 2008, issue 1
  • Jan Schlürmann : The “local” and “foreign” Freikorps in the 1848 War of Elevation . In: AufBruch & BürgerKrieg. Schleswig-Holstein 1848–1851. Volume 1. Kiel 2012, pp. 166-184.
  • Hagen Schulze : Freikorps and Republic . Boppard 1969.
  • Matthias Sprenger: Landsknechte on the way to the Third Reich? On the genesis and change of the Freikorps myth , Paderborn a. a. (Ferdinand Schöningh) 2008. ISBN 978-3-506-76518-5 . ( Entry on )
  • Georg Tessin : German associations and troops 1918–1939. Old army. Volunteer associations. Reichswehr. Army. Air force. State Police , Osnabrück 1974.
  • Klaus Theweleit : Male fantasies . Kiel 1978.
  • Robert Thoms, Stefan Pochanke: Handbook on the history of the German free corps . Bad Soden-Salmünster 2001.

Web links

Commons : Freikorps  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Freikorps  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

References and comments

  1. Background, list and numbering according to Bleckwenn 1986 Vol. IV: 82ff.
  2. ^ Arnd Krüger : Sport and Politics. From gymnastics father Jahn to state amateur. Torchbearers, Hanover 1975
  3. ^ Gunther Mai: The Weimar Republic. 3rd edition, CH Beck, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-406-72780-1 , p. 38 f.
  4. Dietrich Heither: Enlightenment in the best sense . In Junge Welt , No. 199, from August 26, 2016, page 12/13 (Online (PDF; 483 kB))