Freikorps (English: Free Corps) are German volunteer military or paramilitary units. The term was originally applied to voluntary armies formed in German lands from the middle of the 18th century onwards. Between World War I and World War II the term was also used for the paramilitary organizations that arose during the period of the Weimar Germany. Freikorps units fought both for and against the German state.
The first Freikorps were recruited by Frederick II of Prussia in the 18th century during the Seven Years' War. The Freikorps were regarded as unreliable by regular armies, so they were mainly used as sentries and for minor duties.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Freikorps were formed for the purpose of shaking off French rule in Germany. Those led by Ferdinand von Schill were decimated in the Battle of Stralsund (1809), many of their members killed in battle or executed at Napoleon's command in the aftermath. Later, Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow, a survivor of Schill's Freikorps, formed the Lützow Free Corps which took part in the German War of Liberation. The anti-Napoleonic Freikorps often operated behind French lines, as a kind of commando or guerrilla force.
Throughout the 19th Century, these anti-Napoleonic Freikorps were greatly praised and glorified by German Nationalists, and a heroic myth built up around their exploits. It was this myth which was invoked, in considerably different circumstances, the aftermath of Germany's defeat in World War I.
Post-World War I
The meaning of the word "freikorps" changed over time. After 1918, the term was used for the paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Germany as soldiers returned in defeat from World War I. They were the key Weimar paramilitary groups active during that time. Many German veterans felt disconnected from civilian life, and joined a Freikorps in search of stability within a military structure. Others, angry at their sudden, apparently inexplicable defeat, joined up in an effort to put down Communist uprisings or exact some form of revenge (see Dolchstoßlegende). They received considerable support from Minister of Defense Gustav Noske, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, who used them to crush the German Revolution and the Marxist Spartacist League and arrest Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were in fact killed on 15 January 1919. They were also used to defeat the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919.
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