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A little German history, 1918 to 1920

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the new Russian Bolshevik government freed up huge German forces on the Eastern Front. These were immediately ferried to the West in preparation for another of those "knockout blows" which would win the war - this time, before the tremendous industrial and financial strength of the United States could weigh in decisively on the side of the Allies. Germany's huge Western Front offensive in the spring of 1918 was, at least initially, a tremendous tactical success. It achieved deep penetrations of the Allied front in multiple areas, allowing the sort of advances which hadn't been seen in the west since the summer of 1914 - perhaps the fabled "breakout" was finally imminent, after the long years of the grinding stalemate of trench warfare. But the Allies had sufficient forces to pinch off all of these deep but narrow salients from the flanks, and the breakthroughs failed everywhere. Canadian and British troops at Moreuil Wood and French troops at Albert staged heavy, and effective, counterattacks. In a bad portent for Germany's planned campaigns of 1919, "Blackjack" Pershing had committed the new American troops to both the Allied defenses and the counterattacks, and they had performed well. The German situation could only deteriorate drastically in the near future, as essentially unlimited American forces poured into Europe.

Germany lost a quarter of a million men before halting its spring offensive. Its carefully-hoarded reserves had been almost entirely consumed in the effort, and General Erich Ludendorff panicked, telling the figurehead civilian government - emasculated by the Army Supreme Command, the Oberste Heeresleitung, since 1916 - that it would have to arrange some sort of peace. Thus the army could put the blame for the loss of the war on the civilian government, a trick which became important a few years later when it lent credence to the Dolchstoßlegende, or the "stab in the back" theory. In early October, the Chancellor, Prince Maximilian von Baden, contacted Woodrow Wilson about the possibility of a peace negotiated on the basis of his beloved Fourteen Points - which were not so beloved by the other Allied powers, who felt, with considerable justification, that they had deeper grievances against the Second Reich than did the US. To gain more credibility with the US, Germany declared itself a constitutional monarchy in late October, and Prince Max put together a new government including prominent politicians Friedrich Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann.

Unfortunately at almost the exact same time, and perhaps in an attempt to scuttle the peace negotiations, the military command ordered a sortie into the North Sea by the High Seas Fleet. This gesture, doubtless a suicidal one in the face of the Royal Navy's waiting dreadnoughts, caused several crews of ships at the base at Wilhelmshaven to mutiny. Some thousand sailors were arrested and incarcerated at Kiel, but the damage had been done. The mutiny grew into a rebellion which rapidly spread through Germany. In solidarity with the mutineers, committees of soldiers, sailors, and workers began electing local councils much like the Soviets which had preceded the revolution a year earlier in Russia - although the German ones, crucially, were not actually controlled by the Bolsheviks or any other splinter communist groups. Many German cities were seized and controlled by these civilian and mutinying military forces, most importantly Berlin and Munich. In early November the civilian components of these councils demanded the abdication of Wilhelm II. Wilhelm during all this excitement was at Army headquarters at Spa in Belgium. He toyed with the idea of abdicating as Kaiser (Emperor) but remaining King of Prussia, but on November 9 Prince Max declared Wilhelm's abdication from both thrones, himself resigning the same day. To forestall the expected declaration of a Soviet Republic by Karl Liebknecht, a prominent Spartacist (essentially, a German Bolshevik), Scheidemann immediately declared a German Republic in the Reichstag. Despite this, elsewhere in Berlin and some two hours later, Liebknecht and the Spartakusaufstand (Spartacist League) declared their Soviet Republic. Friedrich Ebert, more-or-less the leader at that time of the coalition of Republican parties - and having been stuck with the position of Chancellor by the resignation of Prince Max - gained the upper hand on the Spartacists by making an uneasy agreement with General Wilhelm Groener, Ludendorff's successor, that the Army would defend the new Republic if the Republic wouldn't attempt to reform the Army, most particularly by reducing the command authority of the officer corps.
Spartacists in Berlin, with an 08/15 Maxim gun at left, and one serious-looking mortar on the right
The Armistice on November 11 freed up the German troops on the Western Front, and they began to trudge home. As the Armistice was an agreement to stop fighting and not a surrender, these troops still had their weapons. The active troops tended to stay under the command of the Oberste Heeresleitung, and therefore of General Groener, but others organized locally into several hundred local Freikorps, each varying from a few hundred men to brigade size. The German Freikorps were originally militia, but in 1918 they became anything from homes-away-from-home for returning soldiers who felt alienated from German society and its rapid dislocations, up to full-fledged and well-armed paramilitary organizations. There was some fighting between the Freikorps and the Army, particularly during an Army mutiny in Berlin in late November. But in the main, both Army and Freikorps fought the communist and Spartacist League attempts to control German cities, and to suppress uprisings by Polish separatists in the east. In January 1919, the Freikorps defeated a major Spartacist uprising in Berlin, capturing, beating, and then shooting the Spartacist leaders Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

At about the same time as the suppression of the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, January 1919, a general election was held for members of the constituent assembly which would form the core of the government of the new German Republic. In February, to avoid the continuing fighting in Berlin, the constituent assembly moved to Weimar, some hundred miles to the southwest, and in February elected Ebert the Republic's first Reichspräsident. Meanwhile a Soviet Republic was declared in Munich, but put down by the Freikorps and the regular Army, and something close to a thousand suspected communists were rounded up and shot. This successful repression of the Munich communists encouraged the growth of reactionary movements in Bavaria, such as the National Socialists, exiled Russian monarchists, and such ne'er-do-wells. Things stayed violent on the eastern frontiers, where monarchial loyalists continued to fight the Republic, accompanied by further uprisings by separatist Polish nationalist militias near Posen and in Silesia.
On the other hand, the Army in Berlin had the flamethrowers and the good sniping positions
The Paris Peace Conference was held between the Allied and Associated powers during much of 1919. It resulted in the Treaties of St. Germain (with Austria), Trianon (with Hungary), Neuilly (with Bulgaria), Sevres (the Ottoman Empire), and Versailles (with Germany). The Treaty of Sevres, signed by the Sultan in August 1920, was an immediate failure. Mustapha Kemal deposed and exiled the Sultan by 1922 and immediately began reconquering territories which had been ceded away by the Sultan's signature on the Treaty. The Allies quickly made a new treaty with the surprisingly formidable Kemal, the Treaty of Lusanne, which he signed in 1923. As a voluntary treaty drawn up between approximate equals, it became the only tolerably successful treaty of the batch. In contrast, Germany had nobody who could negotiate with the same sort of strength as Kemal, and no soldiers to send to a reopened war on the Western Front - all Germany's troops were at home fighting communists or on the eastern frontiers fighting a resurgent Poland. The Royal Navy's wartime blockade, still in force, made the German position even more perilous. So Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. This had two effects. First, it officially ended the war between Germany and the Allied powers. Second, it convinced the German voters that their brief experiment with political moderation (at least, "moderation" by the standards of central Europe) had been a failure - a reasonable Germany had not been treated as a reasonable country by the Treaty of Versailles. The obvious conclusion was that moderation as a political philosophy was useless, and German politics split into extremes on the Left and the Right - an exaggerated split still evident today.

The German government at Weimar, trying to draw up a constitution for the new German Republic, therefore had to find a formula which would include parties and factions from the diametrical extremes of the political spectrum, from outright Bolsheviks to unrepentant Monarchists. Reichspräsident Ebert signed the new constitution into law in August 1920. The Weimar constitution was a model of fair representative government, guaranteed to include members of even the loony fringe parties. Eventually it came to no good end, particularly after one of the looniest, the National Socialist German Worker's Party (or N.S.D.A.P.), was able to finagle - by, at first, entirely legal means - a minority vote into effective control of the government, soon making the world familiar with a new word, Nationalsozialistische, or Nazi. But that didn't happen until the early 1930s. Long before that dire turn of events, back in 1919-1920, the Weimar government followed a progressive agenda, enacting universal suffrage, an 8-hour workday, agricultural labor reform, and other hallmarks of the modern liberal state. The Republic also tried to keep up with the changing status of the Army in the immediate post-Armistice period. It March 1919 it created, by decree, the Vorläufige Reichswehr (Provisional German Defense Force), consisting of the Vorläufige Reichsheer (the Army part) and the Vorläufige Reichsmarine (obviously, the Navy). In September 1919 the Vorläufige Reichsheer was replaced by a new army, the Übergangsheer (Transitional Army). Finally, by November 1919 the cumulative damage caused to the Reichstag building by all the revolts was repaired, and the Republican government moved from Weimar back home to Berlin. After the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles by the new League of Nations in January 1920, the new regular German military force, the Reichswehr - army, navy, everything - had to be reduced to no more than 100,000 men. Such, at least, was the Allied plan.
And, at least going by the photographic record, the Freikorps had the classiest guns
At that time the Reichswehr consisted of some 350,000 men, and the various Freikorps totalled something in excess of 250,000. Obviously, the Freikorps would have to go, and the Republican government tackled that job in 1920. In March it ordered the disbandment of one of the Freikorps units, the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt.

Although only a modest cadre of some 6000 men, the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt had had an active history, participating in the fighting to retake the northwest ports (Bremen, Cuxhaven, and Wilhelmshaven) from local revolutionaries in early 1919. It afterwards was sent to central Germany to fight local communist uprisings there. It was among the Freikorps which suppressed the uprising in Munich. In August the Brigade Ehrhardt crushed Polish separatists in upper Silesia. So perhaps not surprisingly, when ordered to disband, the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt resisted. It appealed to the commander of the Berlin Reichswehr, General Lüttwitz, who, after failing to enlist the cooperation of Reichspräsident Ebert, ordered the Brigade to march on Berlin, which was occupied by mid-March. The head of the Heeresleitung, General Hans von Seeckt, when ordered to put down this Putsch, refused to fight what he considered a fellow Reichswehr unit, although he conspicuously refused to support it, either.

This occupation of Berlin coincided, perhaps by design, with an attempt by Dr. Wolfgang Kapp, onetime president of East Prussia, to declare the Ebert government in violation of the new constitution. Kapp had a point, as the constituent assembly had elected Ebert president of the German Republic in 1919. Ebert signed the new Weimar constitution into law in August of 1920. But the constitution provided for the president to be elected by a national election, and not by the constituent assembly. Kapp's actual motives were probably more sinister than merely pointing out a procedural nicety. While the Ebert government escaped to Dresden, Dr. Kapp used the occupation of Berlin by the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt to declare the presidency of Ebert to be void, and announced that Kapp himself would serve as imperial chancellor until new elections could be held.
Getting around Berlin must have been a chore. So which are those guys above? Reichwehr, I'd guess,
and maybe Spartacists below - but it's not the sort of thing one would want to guess wrong about
The Ebert government called for a general strike by German workers, emphasizing - possibly correctly - that the reactionaries who had seized Berlin were intent on restoring the ex-Kaiser (who was at that time safely isolated in the Netherlands, where Queen Wilhelmina had given him a modest castle and resolutely rejected Allied demands for his extradition). German workers responded to this threat with enthusiasm, and their strike effectively paralyzed Berlin, as well as much of the rest of the country. The only other major Freikorps unit to support the Kapp Putsch was the III Marine Brigade, which captured Breslau in Silesia. The Bavarian, Württemberg, Baden, and Saxon governments all declared support for President Ebert. However Ebert seems to have been suspicious of Saxon sincerity, and moved the Republican government to Stuttgart.

Within two days it was clear that the Kapp Putsch was unable to govern, and Dr. Kapp and General Lüttwitz fled to Sweden. Although General von Seeckt then officially disbanded the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, it continued limited operations as the Organisation Consul, an ultranationalist death squad, and carried out a few assassinations of the Republic's ministers in 1921 and 1922.

When the Ebert government returned to Berlin, it found that the general strike it had successfully called was not so successfully called off again. Striking workers started a new round of Soviets in eastern Berlin, and the Spartacists were back, with uprisings in Bavaria, Württemberg, western Prussia, and, most seriously, in Leipzig. The communists tried to use the power of the strike, which had proved so effective against the Kapp Putsch, to bring down the elected Republican government as well. More fighting broke out, and, although the situation in Leipzig required a bit of a struggle, the Reichswehr was able to suppress the uprisings in Prussia and Berlin, Saxony, Württemberg, and Bavaria without undue difficulty. But in Westphalia and the Rhineland, the German government couldn't send in troops at whim, as these areas were neutral zones, sparsely occupied by Allied and German troops and police, as stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles. The Spartacists took advantage of the relative power vacuum to declare some of these western parts of Germany to be unified with Bolshevik Russia. The German government requested a temporary modification of the terms of Versailles, to allow more Reichswehr troops into the Ruhr and the areas in revolt. Britain and Italy were agreeable, but France prevaricated while Germany's political situation deteriorated. Finally in April, regular Reichswehr troops entered the neutral area without Allied permission, and had no difficulty dealing with the Spartacists. Immediately after the German move, French troops occupied Frankfurt.

The British, French, and Italian prime ministers met late in April, and sent the German government a note reminding it that it really had to pay more attention to that 100,000 man limitation on the Reichwehr, and that until it did the Allies couldn't seriously consider any German requests to increase the size of the Reichwehr even if only to deal with Germany's internal difficulties. As it happened, the Reichwehr was so successful in its suppression of the Spartacists in the neutral areas that the Germans had already removed the extra troops, and even replaced the few who were officially allowed to be there with police forces. This satisfied the Allies, at least for the moment, and French troops evacuated Frankfurt in mid-May.

Another conference, this one ostensibly to settle some details of war reparations, was held at Spa in July. The German minister of defense repeated the request to increase the size of the Reichswehr beyond the 100,000 men stipulated by Versailles, as it was difficult to keep order in the country with such a small force. David Lloyd George then reminded the minister of the major difficulty, as seen by the Allies - despite the Treaty, Germany had armed forces far exceeding the 100,000 men, 100,000 rifles, and 2,000 machine guns allowed. The regular Army still had some 200,000 men and 50,000 machine guns, and only a million and a half rifles had been surrendered after the war, leaving millions doubtless stashed somewhere. Further discussions with the Reichwehr chief of staff, General von Seeckt, revealed the fact that, despite the disbandment of the Freikorps earlier in 1920, Germany still had considerable numbers of large and well-equipped organizations such as the 500,000-man Einwohnerwehr (formed by the Republican government in April 1919 to allow citizens to protect themselves from revolutionaries and brigands, and commanded and blatantly supplied by local Reichwehr units), and the Sicherheitspolizei (formed by the Prussian government in 1919, for the same ostensible purpose as the federal Einwohnerwehr). There was a similar group, the Sicherheitswehr, which, while (at the moment) of uncertain affiliation, was certainly not a low-profile bunch, as it had shot 42 rioters to death in January 1920 when some 80,000 socialists had tried to storm the Reichstag. Other German organizations such as the Schutzmannschaft, Schutzpolizei, Landjaegerei, Kommunalpolizei, and Kriminalpolizei, totalling something over 100,000 men, appeared to be more conventional, and entirely legitimate, police forces. But to the Allies, the Einwohnerwehr, Sicherheitswehr, and Sicherheitspolizei seemed - not unreasonably - to be thinly disguised reserve forces for the already-oversized Reichwehr.

The Einwohnerwehr Bayern, the Bavarian branch of the Einwohnwehr, marked the guns issued to it by the Reichwehr. The mark was a prominent EWB, on pistol grip plates and rifle butts. Bavaria caused the Republic and the Allies some annoyance with its persistent fondness for both the Einwohnwehr and the Sicherheitswehr, and its reluctance to disband either.
The example at left is no longer on its original gun. The sample at right is on an unmodified 1916 Prussian Contract gun, serial 14668. Such an early gun may never have had "9" markings on its grip panels, but what happened to the normal horizontal grooves is a mystery.

We can only sympathize with General von Seeckt and his colleagues, trying to build up secret organizations when the troops insisted on marking their clandestine equipment with clues it wouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to follow. The Nationalsozialistische tightened things up considerably in the early 1930s with their factory code system.

General von Seeckt is nowadays credited (if "credited" is the proper word) with re-forming the forbidden German General Staff, merely renaming it the Truppenamt (Troop Office), and with making arrangements with Trotsky's War Commissar's Office permitting Germans to develop weapons in Russia, well out from under the watchful eyes of the Western Allies. This arrangement was probably unknown to the Weimar government, and may have been assisted considerably by the animus both von Seeckt and Trotsky had towards Poland. The German weapons developed in Russia, such as tanks and dive bombers, proved decisive in the attack on Poland in 1939. In 1926 von Seeckt was booted from the Reichswehr for some political faux pas or other, and before his death in 1936 served in the Reichstag and as a military adviser to General Chiang Kai-shek.

The Allies instructed the Germans to reduce the Reichwehr to 150,000 men by October, and further to the required 100,000 men by January 1921; to disarm the Einwohnerwehr and Sicherheitspolizei; and to demand a surrender of all arms in the hands of the civilian populace (and so, at least in principle, finding at least a few of those millions of missing rifles). The German delegates agreed to these stipulations in July. The Reichstag issued the proclamation to surrender unofficial arms on August 7, 1920 (although it didn't get around to actually disbanding the Einwohnerwehr until 1921, possibly due to official foot-dragging from Bavaria). Another edict of about the same date directed that official arms (that is, those owned by one German government or another) be stamped with the official property mark 1920. So the significance of the 1920 stamp wasn't so much that it was a date or even a property mark, even though it was both of those things - more significantly, it was an official admission that the gun it was on was an official one, and therefore of interest to the Allied commissioners. Of course, a related benefit of the confiscation program for guns in non-government hands was that, at least in theory, it would tend to make the Spartacists and other uppity communists less dangerous.

However, like most postwar German efforts to comply with the Allies, this program was at best half-hearted, and at worst cynical and deceptive, and it seems to have been allowed to die a natural death sometime in 1921.

Why the 1920 stamp was ever put on handguns remains unclear. The Treaty of Versailles had nothing at all to say about handguns. Rifles, machine guns, and artillery were tightly regulated, but handguns were ignored. Why the Allies were suddenly interested in handguns, no matter whose hands they happened to be in, is a puzzle. Perhaps the Allies really were not interested, but the Germans used the episode as a convenient excuse to disarm the population at large.

If so, the Germans weren't the only ones to try this little dodge. The year 1920 turned out to be a seminal one for gun control experiments. Britain's Firearms Act, its first modern gun-control law, was enacted in 1920 because of fear of labor disruption and a Bolshevik revolution - but of course a revolution in England, not in Germany, as the dockside areas of East London were known to be hotbeds of communist oratory. France encouraged the passage of a similar law in Cambodia, also in 1920, although there were no Bolshevik uprisings in Cambodia at the time, so apparently the French were just planning ahead by some thirty years. And the Council of People's Commissars did the same in Russia (though they jumped the gun a bit and did it in 1918 rather than 1920) - but of course the People's Commissars weren't concerned about Bolshevik revolutions, as they were Bolsheviks.

The Treaty of Versailles

According to Part V of the Treaty, the size of the army, the number of War Ministry staff, and numbers of customs agents, forest rangers, coast guards, and police were all limited. Total numbers of guns (artillery), machine guns, trench mortars, rifles, and munitions stockpiles available to Germany were specified. Imports and exports of arms and munitions were prohibited. Germany was not allowed to have poison gasses, tanks, armored cars, submarines, dirigibles, military air forces, or its traditional General Staff. Numbers and sizes (i.e., displacements) of warships were limited. Forts in western Germany were to be dismantled.

Shooting clubs were allowed so long as they had no connection whatever with the military (much as glider-flying clubs were allowed so long as they had no connection whatever with precision drops of mail sacks. Believe that, and I have a nice Polish Corridor to sell you).

The Treaty specified the minimum enlistment period in the army as 12 years for privates and NCOs, and 25 years for officers. This was to prevent Germany from using the system followed by all major First War belligerents (except the US), which allowed them to put millions of trained and equipped men in the field in a matter of weeks. The idea was that all able-bodied men would undergo basic military training, then be demobilized and returned to civilian life. On mobilization or the outbreak of war, they could be called up immediately, issued with equipment, and packed into trains bound for the front. The absolute necessity for meticulous planning of railroad timetables was one cause of the huge growth of military staffs in those days. Another way of inhibiting Germany's ability to have larger numbers of military men on more or less instant call was to forbid German enlistment in foreign armies, neither as troops, nor as advisers or observers.

There was much more. Versailles was a big treaty. But for our purposes, the noteworthy fact is that it was concerned with grand objectives, such as who was going to pay for the nearly total destruction of Belgium and much of northern France, and where exactly to draw the borders of Poland and how to give Gdansk access to the Baltic Sea when East Prussia happened to be in the way. Details of handgun features seem to have been too trivial to find their way into the text of the treaty itself.

The Treaty did, however, set up some subsidiary commissions, and someone on one of those commissions may have developed a bee in his bonnet about long-barreled 9mm handguns. But the only long-barreled 9mm handguns used by Germany or the other Central Powers were the 1916 Prussian Contract C-96s and the relatively few 6- and 8-inch barrel Lugers. There were a few very early submachine guns around too, and as the Germans called those "machine pistols", that may have complicated matters. But whoever's actually to blame - and I haven't succeeded in tracking down the actual paperwork yet (for instance, British Foreign Office Confidential Correspondence - Germany, Series 1, Part 2 (the bit about the years 1920 and 1921), runs some 110,000 pages, and I imagine it's in there somewhere) - it seems that 9mm guns with anything over 100mm barrels were verboten. Smaller calibers could have longer barrels. And so, the rationale for the postwar rework program.

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