Wolfgang Kapp

The German nationalist politician Wolfgang Kapp (1858-1922) led a putsch in March 1920, an abortive rightist-military coup.

Wolfgang Kapp was born in New York City on July 24, 1858, the son of a lawyer-politician. Returning to Germany in 1870, the young Kapp earned a doctorate of law and entered the Prussian civil service in 1886. A hardworking bureaucrat, he advanced through the ranks of district magistrate in 1891 and councilor in the Prussian Ministry of Agriculture in 1900 until he was appointed director general of the East Prussian Land Bank in Königsberg in 1906, a position he held until his putsch in 1920.

A partisan of the ultra nationalist Pan-German League, Kapp emerged during World War I as a determined foe of a negotiated peace and campaigned bitterly against the moderate chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg and the Reichstag (parliamentary) Peace Resolution of 1917 in two violent pamphlets. In September 1917, with Adm. Alfred von Tirpitz and others, he founded the ultranationalist German Fatherland party. From February until November 1918 he held a mandate in the Reichstag.

Outraged by the revolution of 1918-1919, Kapp reorganized his party with the support of several disenchanted army officers and freebooters under the new name of Nationale Vereinigung (Alliance for National Unity) in July 1919. Together with the Berlin army group commander Gen. Walther von Lüttwitz, he staged the so-called Kapp Putsch against the republican government of Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Bauer in March 1920. Kapp and Lüttwitz used the rebellion of the elite Marine Brigade Ehrhardt—which under Lüttwitz's command was defying a government order that they disband—to march on Berlin, seize the government buildings, and declare the republican government deposed on March 13. Kapp took over the chancellorship, Lüttwitz the Ministry of Defense. Lacking active army support, however, the putschists were unable to carry on the business of government in the face of general popular distrust and an effective general strike called by the labor unions at the request of the fleeing government in Stuttgart.

Kapp and Lüttwitz fled on the morning of March 17, making their way to Sweden the following day. Although its duration was brief, the putsch left the republic severely shaken and faced with new unrest in the industrial areas of the Ruhr and Saxony as well as several important power readjustments in the central and state governments. Kapp returned to Germany in May 1922 to stand trial but died in custody on June 12.


Further Reading on Wolfgang Kapp

For general information on Kapp see Robert G. L. Waite, Vanguard of Nazism: The Free Corps Movement in Postwar Germany, 1918-1923 (1952), and Walther H. Kaufmann, Monarchism in the Weimar Republic (1953).