Freikorps, “Free Corps” were German volunteer units that existed from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, the members of which effectively fought as mercenaries, regardless of their own nationality. In German-speaking countries, the first so-called Freikorps, “free regiments”, Freie Regimenter, were formed in the 18th century from native volunteers, enemy renegades and deserters, and criminals. These sometimes exotically equipped units served as infantry and cavalry (or more rarely as artillery), sometimes in just company strength, sometimes in formations up to several thousand strong; there were also various mixed formations or legions. The Prussian von Kleist Freikorps included infantry, jäger, dragoons and hussars. The French Volontaires de Saxe combined uhlans and dragoons.
In the aftermath of World War I and during the German Revolution of 1918–19, Freikorps consisting largely of World War I veterans were raised as right-wing paramilitary militias, ostensibly to fight on behalf of the government against the Soviet-backed German Communists attempting to overthrow the Weimar Republic. However, the Freikorps also despised the Republic and were involved in assassinations of its supporters.The Freikorps were widely seen as the precursor to Nazism, and many of their volunteers ended up joining the Nazi militia, the Sturmabteilung (SA).An entire series of Freikorps awards also existed.
Vanguard of Nazism is the first full history of the Free Corps Movement which arose in Germany after World War I shows how proto-Nazi thinking developed in this movement, and how the Free Corp contributed to the growth of National Socialism.
The Free Corps Movement had its origins in the pre-war youth movement and on the battlefields of the war. The returning soldiers, embittered by defeat, believing themselves betrayed by a cowardly government, and psychologically incapable of demobilizing, formed into volunteer bands throughout Germany. These groups, immensely powerful by 1919, were hired by the newly established Weimar Republic to fight against the Communists. They fought for the Republic (which they despised) from Munich to Berlin, from Düsseldorf to the Baltic. When the Republic tried to disband them, they went underground until they emerged in Hitler’s Germany.
The savage actions and warped ideology of the men whom Hermann Goering called “the first soldiers of the Third Reich” are revealed in this book by contemporary newspaper accounts, government documents, and previously untranslated memoirs of the Free Corp fighters themselves. With this material, Mr. Waite substantiates the thesis that National Socialism began in the months and years immediately following World War I, and that the history of the Free Corps Movement–its ideas, attitudes, and organization–is an indispensable part of Germany’s history in the inter-war period and the Second World War.
In 1920, Adolf Hitler had just begun his political career as the leader of the tiny and as-yet-unknown Deutsche Arbeiterpartei/DAP German Workers’ Party, which was soon renamed the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei/NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) or Nazi Party in Munich. Numerous future members and leaders of the Nazi Party had served in the Freikorps, including Ernst Röhm
, founder and leader of Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, and his deputy Commander Eberhard Kautter, leaders of the Viking League, refused to help Hitler and Erich Ludendorff in their Beer Hall Putsch and conspired against them.
Hitler eventually viewed some of them as threats. A huge ceremony was arranged on 9 November 1933 in which the Freikorps leaders symbolically presented their old battle flags to Hitler’s SA and SS. It was a sign of allegiance to their new authority, the Nazi state. When Hitler’s internal purge of the party, the Night of the Long Knives, came in 1934, a large number of Freikorps leaders were targeted for killing or arrest, including Ehrhardt and Röhm. Ehrhardt was one of those listed to be killed during the Night of the Long Knives, but he managed to escape to Austria. He was later invited back to Nazi Germany. He died on 27-09-1971, old age 89, in Brunn am Walde, Lower Austria. Historian Robert GL Waite claims that in Hitler’s “Röhm Purge” speech to the Reichstag on 13 July 1934, he implied that the Freikorps were one of the groups of “pathological enemies of the state”