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Kapp Putsch

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Two rebellions in just one year? A rebellion staged by both the far-left and the far-right? How does that even happen? If you were a German in the years following the First World War, one rebellion after might have seemed like the new normal. But what made this rebellion, the Kapp Putsch, so different?

Kapp Putsch 1920 Summary

The Kapp Putsch was an attempted coup d'état by the Freikorps group of Marinebrigade Ehrhardt.

The main goal of the putsch was to overthrow the Weimar Republic and reverse the effects Treaty of Versailles.

Walther von Lüttwitz and Wolfgang Kapp were two former army officers of the imperial German military. Lüttwitz was a figure who Kaiser Wilhelm II regarded as a true leader. While Kapp was a small-time officer whose nationalistic sentiment would attract Lüttwitz to invite him to lead the putsch. Kapp's highest achievement was this very putsch.

Who were the Freikorps?

Freikorps were military units that were made up of volunteering soldiers that formerly served in the German Imperial Army during the First World War. They were mainly a paramilitary militia that could be best described as somewhere between the police force and the army.

The vast majority of the Freikorps were vehemently anti-Communist ideals and were violent in their crackdown on all those who were seen as Communist sympathisers.

The Kapp Putsch is also known as the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch but we will soon find out why it should have been. simply called the Lüttwitz Putsch.

The Treaty of Versailles was effectively the most obvious trigger of the putsch. Those who took part in the Great War were reluctant to simply stand aside while the Weimar government completed the Allies' request to cripple the German economy as well as drastically diminish the once mighty German Army.

With these in mind, German military officials took it upon themselves to overthrow the Weimar government and establish a military autocracy, with which they would prepare the grounds for bringing the Kaiser back. to Germany, restoring the monarchy and hopefully rallying the German people to stand up against the Treaty of Versailles.

Just as in the Spartacist Uprising, Chancellor Friedrich Ebert thought that he could use force to mitigate any uprisings that would. take place in the capital, Berlin. This time, however, his adversaries were the Freikorps, ex-soldiers who had retained their weapons from the war. The Reichswehr (German Army) refused to use violence against their former comrades. The government fled to Stuttgart, but passively encouraged the workers of Berlin to go on strike.

A general strike was announced and Berlin was paralysed. With no water, no gas, and no electricity, governing the city was impossible. The Freikorps left Berlin and Kapp and Lüttwitz fled Germany. The putsch ended with minimal casualties and was a failure for the putschists.

Kapp Putsch, Friedrich Ebert, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 1: Friedrich Ebert

Kapp Putsch Leaders

Walther von LüttwitzGeneral in the German Army, Leader and Driving Force of the Putsch
Wolfgang KappA Journalist by Profession, Leader of the Putsch
Hans von SeecktChief of Staff of the Reichswehr

Freikorps: Who Were They

The end of the First World War saw Germany demobilised and depressed as a state. By 1918, thousands of German military personnel were being sent home from the battlefield. With no other vocation, the Freikorps were established, these were volunteer paramilitary units.

What made the Freikorps especially dangerous was the fact that they were allowed to keep their weapons from the war. In many instances, some Freikorps members had entire arsenals consisting of submachine guns, grenades and in some rare cases even artillery at their disposal.


A military/armed force that operates as an unofficial organisation.

Kapp Putsch, Freikorps in Berlin. StudySmarterFig. 2: Freikorps in Berlin

Freikorps: Background to the Kapp Putsch

The Treaty of Versailles effectively demolished Germany's ability to have a standing army. With complete demilitarisation, Germany was allowed to have a standing army of no more than 100,000 men, a far cry from the 11 million that had been mobilized by Germany by 1918.

With the Treaty of Versailles restricting millions of men from serving their country the only way, they knew how most found themselves unemployed. Though some of these former soldiers joined the ranks of the Freikorps it was not a proper job per se, it was but a voluntary paramilitary formation.

Fueled by a deep hatred of the enemies of their former empire, the Freikorps were used by Chancellor Friedrich Ebert to suppress the general strike and the simultaneous Communist Spartacist Uprising of 1919.

The Freikorps grew larger in number when the Treaty of Versailles went into effect in January 1920.

The more you know...

The Reichswehr (literally meaning "Reich (Realm) Defence), refers to the German Armed forces.

P.S.: This is the same Reichswehr which would go on to become one of the foundational forces of the Wehrmacht.

Kapp Putsch, Ensign of the Reichswehr. StudySmarterFig. 3: Ensign of the Reichswehr

After the Spartacist Uprising was quelled, tensions began to arise between the Freikorps and Chancellor Ebert. The Weimar Government sought to implement the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and as such sought to ensure loyalty from the Reichswehr (and with it the Freikorps).

Both the Reichswehr and Freikorps noticed the reduction and demobilisation of German armed forces by the Weimar government. Rumours that German soldiers would be extradited to the Allies to face charges of war crimes began to emerge. This only panicked the German military and paramilitary forces.


Handing over a person to a country where they have committed the crime.

Talks of a possible putsch had now become much more prominent. The trigger for the putsch however was Chancellor Ebert's attempts to bring the German soldiers and former soldiers under the Weimar Republic's heel. Ebert had ordered to disband of several units of the Freikorps. In addition, he ordered Walther von Lüttwitz to oversee the disbandment.

Unbeknownst to Ebert, Lüttwitz had come with demands of his own. These demands were impossible, including the dissolution of the National Assembly (the government) and the restoration of the old Reichstag (which would mean the return of the Kaiser).

Kapp Putsch, Walther von Lüttwitz, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFg. 4: Walther von Lüttwitz

Kapp Putsch, Wolfgang Kapp, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 5: Wolfgang Kapp

Appalled by his counter-demands, Ebert had ordered Lüttwitz's resignation. Due to this conflict, Lüttwitz launched the coup d'état and with him mobilised the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, a unit of the Freikorps about 6,000 strong. Lüttwitz effectively took Berlin.

Ebert believed that just as. he did during the Spartacist Uprising, he could purge Berlin with an armed organisation. To do so, Ebert called on Hans von Seeckt, chief of staff of the Reichswehr to fight the rebellious Freikorps. As we all know, the Freikorps were made up of former soldiers, thus Seeckt responded to Ebert with a stern declination to his orders.

Ebert and his government had been effectively backed into a corner. Their only choice was to flee and flee they did, first to Dresden and then to Stuttgart. The capital was in the hand of Lüttwitz and the Freikorps. Wolfgang Kapp would also join and lead the putsch.

Kapp Putsch, Hans von Seeckt, Wikimedia Commons. StudySmarterFig. 6: Hans von Seeckt

Kapp Putsch Consequences

Berlin fell to the Freikorps ledby Lüttwitz and Kapp. But ironically, the putsch lasted only four days. When the Weimar government fled to Stuttgart, they called for passive resistance against the far-right takeover. The workers in Berlin were more than happy to comply.

Don't forget...

Just a year previously, the workers went on a general strike. The workers also generally disliked right-wing politics and politicians.

As soon as the general strike began, Berlin was paralysed. No water, no gas, no electricity, and no newspapers. The only way the putschists could communicate with each other was through sending physical telegrams.

The return of the Kaiser?

The putschists sought to bring back Kaiser Wilhelm II to power. This in turn only made their situation worse. When the rumour hit the streets of Berlin about the putschists' plan, the workers only sped up the process of the strike. The workers were mostly left-leaning and generally enjoyed a more socialist-prone government. The return of the Kaiser would mean the end of even the thought of a possible socialist government.

It had become obvious that governing a paralysed Berlin would be impossible. Seeckt had no reason to flee, but he did aid in the freeing of Berlin by promising the Freikorps and their commanders that they would not be arrested if they were to leave Berlin.

The Freikorps did just that and so the Kapp Putsch ended. On the fourth day after the putsch began, Kapp fled to Sweden while Lüttwitz went to Hungary.

Kapp Putsch Significance

In a matter of a year, Berlin saw an uprising and the downfall of both far-left Communists and far-right Nationalists. This only proved one thing: the Weimar government was as unpopular with the right as it was with the left.

The Kapp Putsch was just the first putsch in the history of the Weimar Republic, eventually leading to the creation of the National Socialist Party and the subsequent rise of Adolf Hitler. Don't forget, both the Freikorps and the Reichswehr militia would be absorbed into the Wehrmacht.

Kapp Putsch - Key takeaways

  • The Kapp Putsch was the result of Chancellor Ebert's plan to adhere to the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Lüttwitz used the Freikorps to occupy Berlin in response.
  • Ebert ordered the Reichswehr to free Berlin but the Reichswehr refused to shoot their former comrades.
  • The Weimar government fled to Stuttgart but ordered a general strike from the workers in Berlin.
  • The workers heavily disliked the right-wing politics of the putschists and thus went on strike, paralysing Berlin.
  • Due to this paralysis, the putsch ended in just four days.
  • The leaders fled Germany and the Freikorps were forced to leave Berlin.


  1. Stephen Lee, The Weimar Republic (1998)
  2. Fig. 1: Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00015, Friedrich Ebert (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-00015,_Friedrich_Ebert.jpg) by German Federal Archive, licenced as CC-BY-SA 3.0
  3. Fg. 2: FreikorpsBerlinStahlhelmM18TuerkischeForm (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FreikorpsBerlinStahlhelmM18TuerkischeForm.jpg) by Major a. D. F. W. Deiß, licenced as public domain
  4. Fig. 3: War Ensign of Germany (1921–1933) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:War_Ensign_of_Germany_(1921%E2%80%931933).svg) by Jwnabd, licenced as public domain
  5. Fig. 4: Walther von Lüttwitz circa 1918 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Walther_von_L%C3%BCttwitz_circa_1918.jpg) by Bain, licenced as CC BY-SA 4.0
  6. Fig. 5: Wolfgang Kapp (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wolfgang_Kapp.jpeg) by Bieber, licenced as public domain
  7. Fig. 6: Hans von Seeckt (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_von_Seeckt.png) by Musvage, licenced as CC BY-SA 4.0

Frequently Asked Questions about Kapp Putsch

The Kapp Putsch took place during a period of distrust and dislike of the Weimar government. Seen as traitors by many for signing the Treaty of Versailles, it was only natural that 'some' even tried to revert this act. Wolfgang Kapp, Walther von Lüttwitz and their rebellion, the Kapp Putsch were all great exampled of this bitter dislike of the Weimar. government.

The Kapp Putsch was led by two men disgruntled with the Weimar Government, Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz.

The Kapp Putsch failed because the legitimate government of Germany,  the Weimar government, called for a general strike in Berlin, paralysing the capital. With no electricity, gas or water, it became evident that the Putschists were not looked. upon favourably. The Putsch soon ended after this incident.

The Kapp Putsch proved to the Weimar government that a large percentage of the population, especially those that were affected by the Great War, was deeply mistrustful and disappointed with the Weimar government. The Kapp Putsch simply demonstrated to the Weimar government that their authority was not seen by many Germans to be representative of the true German need, the need for dignity. Something that the Treaty of Versailles had stripped Germany of.

Final Kapp Putsch Quiz

Kapp Putsch Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


Define Paramilitary

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A military/armed force that operates as an unofficial organisation.

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How did the workers' general strike affect the Kapp Putsch?

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The general strike paralysed the city and helped force the putschists to come to terms with the government.

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Who was the Chief of Staff of the Reichswehr?

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Hans von Seeckt

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Which uprising took place in Berlin in 1919?

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The Spartacist Uprising

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How big could the German Army be according to the Treaty of Versailles?

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No greater than 100,000

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Who was Friedrich Ebert?

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Chancellor of Germany

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What was the root cause of the Kapp Putsch?

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The Treaty of Versailles

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What were the putschists planning to do after they had consolidated their power?

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The putschists sought to bring back Kaiser Wilhelm II to power. 

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How did the Kapp Putsch end?

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With the failure of the Putschists. Lüttwitz and Kapp fled Germany and the Freikorps left Berlin.

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