Wolfgang Kapp led the Kapp Putsch in Weimar Germany. Kapp was a right-wing nationalist who was greatly angered by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which he felt humiliated Germany. Kapp held Friedrich Ebert and his government responsible for such a humiliation and attempted to overthrow the government – an attempt that ended in failure.
Wolfgang Kapp was born in New York City on July 24th 1858. His family had moved to America after the failure of the 1848 uprising in Prussia. However, the family returned to Berlin in 1870. In 1884 Kapp married Margarete Rosenow and it was through members of her family that Kapp got involved in right-wing nationalist politics.
Kapp directly criticised German Chancellor Bethmann Hollwegg during World War One. Kapp attacked both his domestic and foreign policies. In 1917, Kapp co-founded the ‘Fatherland Party’. His partner in the creation of this party was Alfred von Tirpitz, who had held a number of senior positions in the German Imperial Navy. Tirpitz was effectively blamed for the failure of the German Imperial Navy at Jutland and for supporting unrestricted submarine warfare – with the huge consequences this had for Germany when America entered the war. Government pressure was put on Tirpitz to resign and he did so in 1916 – though some regarded this as an effective dismissal.
The failure of the 1918 Spring Offensive and the collapse of the German Army on the Western Front, led to some in Germany becoming very vocal in their condemnation of the government. Following the end of the war in November 1918, members of the new Weimar government of 1919 became effectively figures of hate for many nationalists after they signed the Treaty of Versailles. In 1919, Kapp along with World War One hero General Erich Luderndorff set up the ‘National Union’. The plan of the ‘National Union’ was relatively simple – to create a conservative militaristic government. Kapp became a member of the National Peoples’ Party and he was elected to the Reichstag in 1919. He became a vocal supporter of the ‘stab-in-the-back’ legend – that Germany had been betrayed by Socialists, Communists, Jews etc. and had lost the war because of them.
In March 1920, the Kapp Putsch took place. The Berlin contingent of the newly formed ‘FreiKorps’ (Free Corps) commanded by Hermann Ehrhardt, took over Berlin. They were supported by General Walther von Lüttwitz, a senior army general.
The government fled the capital and made its way to Stuttgart. Kapp was put at the head of the government in Berlin and was backed by the FreiKorps.
However, those involved in the putsch completely underestimated the desire among Berliners for a change of government. Germany was still recovering from the shortages caused by the British submarine blockade during World War One and very few had any desire for yet more turbulence in their own lives. Those involved in the putsch automatically assumed that they would have the support of various groups within Berlin but it never happened. A general strike in Berlin paralysed the city and the Kapp government lasted just two days, collapsing on March 18th.
Kapp fled to Sweden but returned to Germany in April 1922 to stand trial. Kapp believed that a public trial would be the perfect place to defend his actions and to effectively advertise where he stood. However, he was suffering from cancer and died in custody on June 12th 1922.