Samstag, 20. Oktober 2012

Freikorps Werdenfels: Historical background (Pt. 1)

As mentioned in the last post, here’s the first part of the historical background to the Freikorps Werdenfels miniatures. (This part deals with the events leading to the fighting in Munich in May 1919 and the establishment of the Freikorps Werdenfels, while a second part will address their actions in Munich and a third the atrocities committed by both sides during the conflict and its aftermath and the role the Werdenfels played in it.)

I’ve tried to write this as objective and accurate as possible. Most of the information have been taken from the Historisches Lexikon Bayern, a historical online resource supported (among others) by the Bavarian State Ministry of Science, Research and Art, and the book Revolutionszeit 1918/19 im Bezirk Garmisch by Josef Ostler. To my knowledge both sources are only available in German language for the time being.

If you have got differing or additional information please let me know!

Overview of the events in 1918/19

This is a brief overview of the events in Munich and Bavaria in late 1918 and early 1919, which culminated in the fighting in Munich in May 1919. This is, of course, a simplification in a way as many of the causes and reasons for these events reach back even further.  

On November 7th, 1918 a big peace demonstration with 40.000 to 60.000 participants took place on the Theresienwiese (famous for being the location of the Oktoberfest) in Munich. Members of the USPD (Unabhängigen Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands – Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany) around the journalist Kurt Eisner took the lead of the demonstration and guided the people through the city. Meanwhile a much smaller group of USPD members succeeded in persuading the troops stationed in Munich to side with the revolutionaries. Following this success strategic points like the main station, the parliament and the telegraph office were occupied and worker’s and soldier’s councils established. 

Kurt Eisner (* 14. Mai 1867; † 21. Februar 1919)
In the night from November 7th to 8th Kurt Eisner proclaimed the Freistaat Bayern – Free State of Bavaria, the monarchy abolished and the holding of elections (in order to establish a parliamentary democracy) the main task of the new government for the time being taken over by the Provisorische Nationalrat – Provisional National Council, which elected Eisner the first Ministerpräsident – prime minister of Bavaria. All this happened without any bloodshed and took place two resp. one day prior to Philipp Scheidemann’s famous declaration of the German Republic in Berlin on November 9th, 1918.

Nearly all bigger towns and municipalities in Bavaria followed the example of Munich and established councils shortly after: amongst others Nuremberg, Fuerth, Augsburg and Wuerzburg on November 8th and Erlangen on November 9th. The more rural areas followed a lot later on,  some only on paper or not at all.
The election took place on January 12th, 1919 (in some parts of Bavaria on February 2nd). The outcome of the election intensified the situation considerably as the USPD achieved quite a bad result. Some of the most prominent points of contentions were the future role of the councils, the founding of militias in some parts of the country and the acknowledgement of Germany being the sole culprit of the Great War by Kurt Eisner in name of the Bavarian people.

Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley (* 5. Februar 1897; † 29. Juni 1945)
Kurt Eisner was assassinated on February 21st, 1919 by Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley, a Lieutenant of the Bavarian Leibregiment and nationalist (a former member of the Thule Society). This caused a lot of turmoil, which could not been stopped by the election of the new prime minister Johannes Hoffmann by the Bavarian Parliament on March 17th. The situation escalated on April 7th when the Central Council and the Revolutionary Worker’s Council together proclaimed the Baierische Räterepublik – Bavarian Republic of Councils. The government Hoffmann immediately relocated to the town of Bamberg in Franconia (northern Bavaria) with the parliament following shortly thereafter. Again, towns all over Bavaria followed the revolutionary example of Munich but this time only Augsburg, Rosenheim and their surroundings achieved more than a short lived change.     

Johannes Hoffmann (* 3. Juli 1867; † 15. Dezember 1930)
At first the government Hoffmann denied the intervention by federal troops and tried to gain control by the commitment of loyal voluntary Bavarian troops. But as their advances on Munich got repelled at Dachau and Freising on April 15th and 16th, they gave in to the enquiries from Berlin. Because of federalistic reasons, to save it’s face and to politically strengthen their position the government Hoffmann started to recruit as many Bavarian troops as possible to take part in the fight for Munich. The Freikorps Werdenfels was one of these  formations.

Freikorps Werdenfels – Establishment and trip to Munich

Responsible for the recruiting in the district Garmisch was Hauptmann Wanger, whose subaltern Leutnant Holler arrived in Garmisch on April 20th. The recruiting for the Freikorps Werdenfels started on April 29th, after several days of preliminaries. (One of the first recruiting posters gave the name wrongly with Freikorps Garmisch.) It is notable that not only ‘real’ locals got recruited into the Freikorps but also spa guests (the area was and still is a health resort) and people who had ‘stranded’ there through the turmoil caused by the end of the Great War and the events following thereafter. (Some of the recruiting posters and advertisements were explicit aimed at the later two groups and they made up a not so small portion of the Freikorps’ members.)

Recruiting finished on May 1st, with a total of about 260 men. They were organized into two companies (named Garmisch and Partenkirchen respectively) and came from very varied backgrounds: inactive officers, businessmen, doctors, friars, farmers, worker and even some pupils. Quite some of the participants hadn’t even reached the official age limit of 22 years. (They even took a former actor with them by the name of August Glonny (the composer of the Freikorps Werdenfels song), who was reported to not only be crippled but also very short sighted.) They left for Munich by train on May 1st and were supposed to arrive there on the next day. At a stopover at Weilheim at 8.30 p.m. they were joined by a group of officers including Major Josef Ritter von Reiss, who took over command from Hauptmann Wanger. One of these officers, Hauptmann Josef Seydel, wrote a journal about his time with the Werdenfelser. About this first encounter he noted:

‘[…]Stärke: 260 Mann mit Gewehren, 10 MG., 1 Personenkraftwagen, 1 Lastkraftwage und einige pferdebespannte Wirtschaftsfahrzeuge. Dieses Freikorps Werdenfels war – im Vertrauen gesagt – ein Sauhaufen ohne jegliche Disziplin und soldatischen Ernst. Der Marsch nach München war für diese Männer nichts weiter als „eine Gaudi“. […]‘

‚[…] Strength: 260 men with rifles, 10 MGs, 1 passenger car, 1 lorry and a couple of horse drawn supply carts. This Freikorps Werdenfels was – strictly in confidence – a bunch of slobs without any discipline or soldierly sternness. The march to Munich was nothing more than a blast to these men. […]’

After the men had quenched their thirst in Weilheim the trip was resumed. But at about 11 p.m. the Werdenfelser train was accidently hit by another train at Bernried. One man was killed in this crash and three men so badly injured that they had to be left behind for medical treatment. The rest of the men refused to continue the journey before dawn. The Freikorps set out again at about 5 a.m. on May 2nd.

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