Fist Of History

Archive for the ‘Odd History’ Category

Operation Plowshare and Operation Gnome – Atoms for Peace!

Monday, March 30th, 2015


So it is the 1950s and for the United States the Cold War has been humming along fairly nicely, both the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are building an expanding collection of nuclear weapons, the first hydrogen bomb tests went well, but for the U.S. your government is running into a problem, the citizens are simply not accepting the awesome potential of atomic energy, and specifically atomic weapons, to remake the world into a better, more amazing place.  Instead they keep gripping about the possibility of utter devastation due to a potential nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.  So it was decided to put on a series of demonstrations of the fantastic peaceful applications for atomic weapons, mainly in the field of “massive construction projects involving making huge holes suddenly appear in the ground.”  Hence the creation of Operation Plowshare, a major U.S. initiative to develop a series of projects to improve America through the use of controlled peaceful nuclear explosions.


An example of an Operation Plowshare sub-project is the idea above, Project Chariot, a plan to use five carefully timed atomic blasts to create a brand new harbor in Alaska for use in trade and settlement.  Concerns about radioactive contamination and environmental damage did not deter this program, what did derail the plan was first concerns that setting of five nuclear weapons in close proximity to each other might be harmful to the local Alaskan native populations living nearby.  More critically though was the problem of cost, building this shiny new harbor would be expensive and the region in Alaska did not really need a new nuclear created harbor.  Most of the ideas considered were not actually tried, such as using atomic weapons to dig channels between underground aquifers in Arizona, or leveling off mountain tops in California for road construction, or my personal favorite, using multiple nuclear weapons to dig a huge trench for a new highway project.


However Project Gnome was implemented, a nuclear blast in New Mexico in 1961 aimed at the idea of detonating the weapon inside a huge salt dome.  The plan was the melted salt would retain a great deal of heat from the blast, allowing water to be bumped into the cavity, heated, and steam produced.  This in turn could be used to produce electrical energy from a constructed power plant on-site.  Ideally the system would provide a steady and regular source of extremely low-cost energy and the success could be duplicated in other eligible areas of the country.

The actual plan did not work out as well as hoped, when the weapon was detonated it failed to seal the shaft that had been dug down to get the weapon in position and cracks in the surface from the blast, along with the open shaft, vented radioactive steam into the atmosphere.  This turned off the U.S. population to the idea, although a year later a team sent down to check on the results of the blast confirmed the salt was still hot enough for use in steam production.  The idea though was abandoned, as was Operation Plowshare as a concept by 1977 after numerous additional test blasts to play with other ideas.  (Including an alternative to fracking as a means of natural gas production – rock shattered by water or rock shattered by the power of the ATOM!  What sounds cooler?)

Sources:  Wikipedia article on Project Plowshare and Project Gnome, io9 article on Operation Plowshare

The United States, Iceland, and World War II

Friday, March 27th, 2015


For the United States the year 1941 was an odd year diplomatically and politically, many within the nation felt that war was coming yet a large minority wished to remain neutral in any upcoming conflict.  As the Soviet Union, Germany, and Great Britain were embroiled in the war there was an odd twilight period when the United States remained effectively out of the conflict but indirectly assisted the Allied powers cause.  Franklin Roosevelt kept edging the United States closer to open conflict with Germany, as well as assisting in the resistance to Japanese expansion, through a series of clandestine activities.  These included an undeclared war with German submarines in the Atlantic and his support for the American Volunteer Group in China (otherwise known as the Flying Tigers.)  One particular activity though that stands out is the United States military occupation of Iceland in July 1941.


On 10 May 1940, in an effort to ensure that Iceland did not end up falling to possible German invasion, Great Britain sent 746 Royal Marines to the island to secure it against potential German shenanigans.  The government of Iceland protested this and declared itself neutral in the war but tolerated the British presence and cooperated with it.  This was mainly due to the fact Iceland didn’t have the capacity to actually resist.  Great Britain increased its troop presence on the island, but by July 1941 Great Britain need its troops in Iceland for use in the war but still needed the island nation secured against the Germans.  So on 7 July 1941 the government of Iceland officially “agreed” that its defense should be transferred from Great Britain to the United States.


Although the United States was neutral officially Marines were sent to Iceland to take up its defense.  Furthermore the United States maintained a garrison on the island throughout the war, only departing at the end of the war.  The occupation actually caused hardship for Iceland which had not been in the German war plans until the British intervened, after which point Icelandic ships became a regular target of German submarine attacks.

This intervention is an excellent example of the skill Franklin Roosevelt used in working to contain German aggression without pushing the United States actually into war.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the Invasion of Iceland in World War II and the history of Iceland in World War II

Operation Frosty Errors – the Battle of Kiska Island

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015


World War II is filled with many epic campaigns and nail-bitingly close battles where United States military forces grappled with tenacious enemy forces.  In particular in the Pacific theater often the United States engaged with Japanese military forces determined to resist no matter the eventual cost.  This battle though, the Battle of Kiska Island in 1943, is not one of those moments.  Kiska Island is located in the Aleutian Islands and was captured by the Japanese in 1942 during the Battle of Midway – it was a side project for Japan.  Both the island of Attu and Kiska were captured by the Japanese despite a non-existence United States defensive presence, due to the need for the United States military to guard Alaska proper.


Despite providing a source of lovely and racist motivational posters the Alaska campaign was of low priority for the United States and Japan, but this did not prevent a brutal battle on the island of Attu in 1943, during which the United States military experienced one of the most brutal banzai charges in the entire war, Japanese soldiers penetrated United States lines to the point that final line rear echelon American troops had to engage the Japanese in hand-to-hand combat.  Due to this the United States military was understandably nervous when it prepared to invade the last Japanese Aleutian holdout island, Kiska, a few months later.


The invasion began with a three week aerial bombardment of Kiska Island, followed by a landing of 7th United States Infantry Division, the 6th Canadian Infantry Division, and a combined task force of Canadian and American troops, the 1st Special Service force.  The 7th U.S. landed on one end of the island and the 6th Canadian on the other end, on a particularly foggy morning.  As you can probably guess, the two forces bumped into each other and thought the other end of the bump was the mysteriously missing Japanese garrison.  The ensuing firefight ended up killing 28 Americans and 4 Canadians.  Overall taking the island cost both sides combined 313 soldiers due to the above friendly fire incident, booby traps, and frostbite.

However the Japanese were long gone, having quietly fled the island weeks before on rafts they made from trees on the island.  Furthermore during this battle the United States Navy fought the Battle of the Pips, an encounter when a United States Naval task force, which included two battleships, opened fire on unknown contacts near the island detected by radar.  After the war it was discovered that there had been no Japanese ships nearby and instead the United States Navy probably bombarded a resting group of birds on the oceans surface.

Bird casualties, regrettably, remain unknown.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the Aleutian Islands campaign, the Battle of Kiska Island, and the Battle of the Pips

Veterans Affairs and Warren G. Harding – Corruption on a massive scale

Monday, March 16th, 2015


One of the constants of political life is scandal, especially political scandal, and in the United States one of the standard marks used to describe a political scandal is to add the term “-gate” to a word to link the scandal to the famous Watergate scandal under President Richard Nixon.  Watergate was a huge scandal but in using it as a bellwether to try to show future scandals have the potential to equal it in impact modern commentators are missing the wonderful world of corrupt fiscal scandals that occurred under President Warren G. Harding.

In some ways Harding is comparable to Ronald Reagan, both men relied on a “hands off” approach to their subordinates and believed in a broad management style that allowed both individual initiative and individual corruption to flourish in their administrations.  For Harding the Teapot Dome scandal has the distinction of being one of the more infamous of his scandals but probably the most juicy scandal in terms of impact to the federal government was the Veterans Affairs Bureau scandal.  Post World War I the United States Congress voted $500 million (in today’s funds $5.5 billion) to fund the constructi0n of new hospitals and vocational training programs to assist World War I veterans with their injuries and return to civilian administration.


Harding appointed his good friend and trusted supporter Charles R. Forbes to oversee this massive effort and Forbes went nuts using that position as a means of graft and corruption.  Harding, in an effort to avoid corruption, had ordered all hospital construction bids were to be handled through a public bidding process with sealed bids.  Forbes simply fed information on the bids to his preferred contractors, in exchange for healthy bribes and favors, and then ensured they won the necessary bids.  Forbes also, through the power of accounting fun, boosted the cost per bed for hospital construction from $3000 on average to $4000 in payments, shifting huge amounts of government funds to his supporters.  Forbes also began to liquidate government stockpiles of medical supplies at huge discounts, again in exchange for an array of personal bribes.  (It is estimated he sold a total of $7 million on government hospital supplies for roughly $600,000 on the private market.)

Forbes also used his position to engage in many personal non-monetary benefits including “joy ride” train trips around the country to visit hospital construction sites, attending regular parties with booze, feasting, and gambling, and at least one affairs with a contractors wife.  (This contractor was a regular beneficiary of inside information on upcoming contracts.)  The party lasted for a little over a year before Forbes was discovered and fled the country in 1923, resigning his position while in Europe.

Eventually he returned to the United States and was tried and sentenced to two years in prison.  Overall he potentially cost the United States government tens to hundreds of millions in graft.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on Warren G. Harding and Charles Forbes, White House biography on Warren G. Harding

Plan 1919 and the Pedersen Device

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Pedersen_deviceThere is nothing quite like a good “wonder weapon” story and the Pedersen Device of 1917 fits that criteria.  Developed by John Pedersen his device was designed to modify the standard M1903 Springfield Rifle to shift it from a standard bolt-action weapon into a modified semi-automatic weapon instead.  The core issue was the slow firing rate of the M1903, which required an infantry men after each shot to retract the bolt, expel the fired cartridge, and return the bolt into firing position which chambered a new round.  Pedersen understood, as did the military, that in the combat environment of the trenches of World War I this slower firing speed was a problem for infantry men rushing across contested territory between entrenched positions.  Furthermore the M1903 Springfield did not allow soldiers to fire “from the hip” as they moved and required a soldier to halt while advancing to shoulder the weapon and properly fire it.

Pedersen made his device with the goal of taking an existing weapon platform, which the military was struggling to produce in sufficient quantities, and modify it, rather than requiring the deployment of an entirely new weapons system.  This modification also allowed the original M1903 bolt assembly to be inserted into the rifle, allowing the weapon to be switched between “semi-automatic smaller cartridge mode” which had shorter range but higher shot rates, and a “single-shot larger cartridge mode” for sniping and fixed position defense.  The United States Army was quite excited by the prospect and bought the rights to the modification, which was carefully concealed to allow it to be a surprise for the enemy.


General John Pershing, Commander of all the Armies United States, was favorable to the new device and included it as part of the planning for the proposed 1919 Offensive.  He requested large stocks of the modified ammunition and hundreds of thousands of the devices, as the new weapon was a key part in a broader plan to redefine the warfare of World War I.  Plan 1919, developed by J.F.C. Fuller, a British staff officer, was an ambitious plan to shatter the German western defenses through a radically new method of fighting.  An armored column of tanks, supported closely by aircraft and fast mobility infantry, would punch a hole through the German trench lines and race to capture and destroy German military headquarters for that section of the front, disrupting command and control.

In turn a follow-up general offensive, with tanks leading the way, close air support, and infantry following in trucks with fast firing weapons, would push through a narrow front in the German lines, pushing them apart and racing to capture key strategic targets within the combat area.  Slower military forces would then follow-up on the offensive, capturing and isolating key German military units bypassed in the initial thrust and therefore forcing the German military to either rapidly fall back or be annihilated.


If that sounds familiar to you it should – it is the basic outline for the German method of war, war of mobility (also misnamed as blitzkrieg) – which the German General Staff developed in the later 1920s to a fuller potential.  Their work though was inspired by the 1919 Plan, which post-war they learned about and studied in detail.

The Pedersen device did not survive the rigors of war however, tested in 1920 in Panama it was found to have flaws and the military had moved beyond converting M1903 Springfields into a new goal, developing an entirely new rifle with inherent semi-automatic qualities.  (Eventually taking the shape of the M1 Garand rifle by 1932.)  With the development of the Garand however the Pedersen device was obsolete, but considered too dangerous to be simply sold to the general public, who could modify surplus Springfield rifles and vastly increase their firepower.  So the Pedersen devices in storage, thousands of them, were simply burned in a huge surplus reducing bonfire.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the Pedersen Device and Plan 1919


Howard Hughes and Las Vegas – Weirdness

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015


In honor of my recent trip I thought I would write about one of the more unusual moments in Las Vegas, NV history – the short period from 1966 to 1970 when Howard Hughes became Las Vegas.  Hughes prior to his 1966 interest in Las Vegas had developed a reputation as something of an eccentric billionaire, with a penchant for investing in strange projects and cutting edge ideas.  Hughes had made his fortune in the tool and die business, aircraft, and movies as well as investing in efforts to promote medical research.  But by the 1960s Hughes had gone from being often in the public eye to being a near total recluse.


His concerns about germs and degenerating mental state combined to push him towards trusting a small cadre of advisers to run his business empire.  (The car above was fitted with an airline grade air filtration system to protect against germs.)  Hughes though also had a pathological hatred of taxes, income tax, corporate income tax, sales tax, it didn’t matter, Hughes hated them all.  He had gotten into a lifestyle of shifting between hotel suites, in part to keep away from the press and also to avoid any state being able to claim him as a resident and demand taxes from him.  This trend in 1966 led him to Las Vegas, for a ten day stay at the Desert Inn near New Years Eve.


When the ten day reservation was up, Hughes simply refused to leave, the hotel casino owners planned to force him to depart but Hughes aid pushed to get them to leave him be.  Eventually when things became too difficult for the hotel owners Hughes negotiated to simply buy the hotel, turning the Desert Inn into the new center of his business empire.  Hughes kept the top floor for himself and the floor below that for his business operations.  Hughes also went on a buying binge in Las Vegas, purchasing a total of four additional casinos and a local television station.  In doing so Hughes also indirectly ended the era of mob-rule in Las Vegas and gave the city a needed infusion of capital which helped push it through an economic rough patch in the late-1960s and early-1970s, due to its rising Mob image and regular federal investigations into Las Vegas operations.


Hughes didn’t build anything, or remodel his holdings, with one exception, the purchase, conversion, and operation of the Landmark hotel and casino, an odd mushroom hotel built on the strip.  It never made much money and eventually closed after Hughes fled Las Vegas.  Now there are many stories about why Hughes got into Las Vegas as an investment, but the reason I find most compelling based on Hughes long-standing personality is the report it was, again, for tax evasion purposes.

Hughes had recently sold Transworld Airlines in 1966 for around $540 million – a sale taxed at a higher rate by the IRS because it was considered “passive income” rather than “active income.”  When Hughes learned that the gross proceeds from casinos however were taxed as “active income” he become very enthusiastic about suddenly owning and operating casinos.  Hughes also made a point of buying large amounts of undeveloped land in Las Vegas, land his corporate holdings contained after his death in 1976.

Hughes himself fled Las Vegas in 1970 to move on to new projects, having been a player in state politics in Nevada but finding the changing landscape of the city, and the politics of the state, no longer to his liking.  Rumor says that his suite in the Desert Inn was only opened for cleaning after he departed the city – it had remained closed to outsiders for four years.  (Just one sample of the weirdness, many reported finding sealed containers of Hughes waste products stored throughout the suite.)

diamonds_foreverThis story has an additional, odd cultural legacy, the James Bond film Diamonds are Forever.  In this 1971 film Sean Connery ends up investigating a diamond smuggling ring that operates through Las Vegas, where he infiltrates a casino owned by a mysterious and reclusive billionaire named Willard Whyte.  Later it turns out that Whyte is being impersonated by an evil Bond super-villain and Whyte’s corporate empire is being used for evil.  (An empire which includes heavy tech research, airplanes, and resource extraction.)  Oddly the film chose not to depict Whyte/Hughes in his classic attire of nakedness covering his genitals with only a napkin, which would have made the movie even more interesting I think personally.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, Desert Inn, article in the Las Vegas Review on Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, University of Las Vegas Digital Library entry on Howard Hughes

Reichskolonialbund – Nazi Colonies in Africa

Monday, February 9th, 2015


With the conclusion of World War I in 1919 Germany, upon signing the Versailles Treaty, forfeited all of its overseas colonies in Africa and Asia to the victorious Triple Entente (Allies) powers as spoils of war.  This loss of pride and symbolic power for Germany was one more complaint that the German nationalist right-wing aimed to correct once Germany regained its former position in world affairs.  Overall for Germany it was felt by many on the right that this loss of colonies denied Germany its rightful position in the world as a “Great Power.”   From 1923 onwards militant right-wing groups, nationalist groups, and pro-monarchist groups in Germany all agitated for the re-establishment of a German colonial empire in Africa.  These came together into several pro-German colonial organizations that were smashed together by the Nazi party in 1933 to create a new organization, the Reichskolonialbund, a.k.a. the Reich Colonial League.


Operating from 1933 through 1943 this organization was aimed primarily at the goal of reforming Germany’s African colonies and was tasked with producing large amounts of propaganda in both the German press, and international medial outlets, about the value of the former German colonial empire, the need for additional living space for Germany, and the unfairness that Germany was contained by hostile powers with no additional room to grow.  That last component was the key reason why the Nazi party supported the Reich Colonial League and used it as a propaganda tool, one of the major foreign policy goals of Hitler during this period was to build up the military strength of Germany for the conquest of additional land to its east, the “living space” Hitler sought to grab from Poland and the Soviet Union through a broad, but ideally swift, series of wars.

Cameroon Chief Wears German Armor

Despite producing images like this and generally pushing for expanded German African colonies, in reality there is no evidence Hitler or the top Nazi leadership had any real designs, or goals, to gain land in Africa for Germany.  Some historians think that Hitler kept this organization afloat to provide a bargaining point with the British, potentially beneficial if Hitler dramatically renounced German colonial ambitions in exchange for British concessions.  Another possibility is this organization existed as a minor appeasement to German industrialists, who had originally looked to Africa in the late 19th century as a source for new markets and cheap raw materials.


Germany did have one armed conflict in Africa though, North Africa specifically, with the intervention of German troops between 1941 to 1943 to attempt to assist the Italian military in its collapsing anti-British campaigns in Egypt.  One of the core goals of the German intervention in Africa was the conquest of Egypt, closing the Suez Canal to the British, and then had that been successful plans became more open-ended.  Hitler envisioned a grand sweep of the Germany’s African military forces, along with the Italians, potentially sweeping into the Middle East through Palestine, Iraq, and Iran to end up pushing against the southern Soviet Union and linking up with forces in Stalingrad.

However had events played out differently it is possible Germany could have sent its forces southwards from Egypt, deeper into Africa with the propaganda purpose of re-establishing the lost German empire.  The events of 1943 however proved the end of the Reich Colonial League, between the German defeat at Stalingrad and the loss of the German army in Africa such ambitions were seen as frivolous in a time of war emergency.

Source:  Wikipedia entry on the Reichskolonialbund


American Bank Note Corporation

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

P-69A, 1944 100 Soles ABNC Trial Proof, GEM(1000)

I love paper currency, it is a personal weakness and any collections of old currency will result in my pausing in whatever I am doing to look at the lovely printed money and reflect on its history.  A recent gift from a family member of some historic paper money was well appreciated and gave me a pause to note a small named stamped at the bottom of each bill, the American Bank Note Company.  Founded in 1795 the American Bank Note Company has been in continuous operation and has printed a wide range of currency products, starting out with producing early American currency and later, once that line of work was absorbed into the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing, into postage stamps for the U.S. market as well as currency for nations abroad.  What stands out in particular about the American Bank Note Company is that, in some ways, it is the company that produced bank notes for dreams of nationhood, along with meeting the demands for various regional banks.


Used by developing world nations throughout the late 19th through the mid-20th century the American Bank Note Company provided paper currency that could quickly spell out a national mythology or mark a new nation states attempt at entrance into the world.  Looking over various different currencies produced by them is a marker into history.

Today the American Bank Note Company, although still a producer of paper currency on demand, has also expanded into work as a solutions management company for nations looking to overhaul their internal revenue operations.

Sources:  Wikipedia on the American Bank Note Company, the ABNote company website

1920s Federal Government and Taxation…a quiet revolution

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015


The period from 1920 through 1929 represents an unusual shift in the operations and nature of the federal government, one that can be best considered a “quiet revolution” in federal government in which both the principles behind taxation, and the principles behind expenditure, were quietly changed to reshape the government into a leaner structure which can still be seen in the foundations of the modern federal government currently operating within the United States.  The core of this change took place under President Warren G. Harding in 1921 with the passage of the Budget and Accounting Act – a new legislation that required that President to submit an annual budget to Congress for approval which would encapsulate all the revenues and expenditures of the federal government.  It also created the Office of Budget Management (OMB, it’s modern name) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – all institutions designed to make the federal government operate more like a modern corporation in its handling of income and expenditures.  The immediate result was increased government efficiency in cost-management and the opportunity for the government to reduce some of its expenditures overall.  By 1922 the federal government had reduced its overall spending by nearly half, from roughly six billion to only three billion in total costs.


Harding also appointed Andrew W. Mellon to the office of Secretary of the Treasury, where he served from 1921 to 1931 under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.  Mellon was responsible for drastic modifications to the United States federal tax code, implementing vast reductions in tax rates on the theory that reduced income tax rates would capture more wealth overall for the federal government by encouraging wealthier individuals to bring their fortunes out of hiding from tax rates and into the productive economy.  During the 1920s his policies worked well overall, calling his efforts “scientific taxation” he oversaw Congress gradually reducing top-tier tax rates from 73% in 1921 to 24% by 1929.  During that same period federal tax receipts went up as well, however Mellon had some unusual ideas that shaped his policy of “scientific taxation” that make it stand out from more modern efforts to reduce tax rates.

  • Mellon believed that lower income tax brackets should be reduced as well, the lowest income tax rate was cut from 4% to 0.5% during the same period
  • Mellon oversaw estate tax rates being cut while also quietly ending policies that encouraged investments into tax shelters to hide wealth from taxation
  • Mellon pushed for the tax rate on “unearned income” – income from investments – to be taxed at a higher rate than that earned by direct labor – arguing that the inherent instability in income earned from wages and salaries needed to be sheltered from the hazards of life

The biggest part of Mellon’s revolutionary idea though was the goal of fine-tuning the income tax rate on the highest earners in society to a point where the government would gain maximum efficiency in returns by getting the most wealth into circulation against revenue generated for federal needs and then locking the tax rate down at that level.  He resisted calls during 1929 to further cut the income tax rate or other tax rates, arguing that peek efficiency had been gained and the wealthy needed no further incentives to get their money into circulation.  Mellon believed in squeezing those who could pay – his major goal was to find just the right squeeze to get the maximum revenue possible for the federal government that it needed, no more, no less.


This aspect of the “quiet revolution” came to an end in the whirlwind of the 1930s and the global economic downturn now known as the Great Depression.  The population of the United States swept the Republican party from power in 1930 and 1932, putting the Democratic party into power and ending the era of a tight federal government and diminished federal spending.  The citizens demanded a more active role from the federal government in combating the problems of the Great Depression and this lead to the end of Mellon’s influence and an end to the idea of the federal government operating as a “business” rather than as a government.  But legacies from this carry on – in the modern United States tax policy is still guided by the goal of setting tax rates that will encourage money to stay in the system rather than hide and the federal budget is an annual event which Congress wrangles over even in the 21st century.

A final note to those who might argue that Mellon’s model, and the tight federal spending efforts by Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover are a more “proper” path for the federal government need to know a key detail, although the spending and role of the federal government declined in the 1920s the role of state governments expanded, including spending to pick up more social programs.  So the overall level of expenditure during this period on social infrastructure is a more complex topic than presented here.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on Warren G. Harding, the Budget and Accountability Act of 1921, Calvin Coolidge, and Andrew W. Mellon


The Kapp Putsch of 1920

Monday, December 15th, 2014

Kapp-Putsch, Berlin

That isn’t an image of really bargain basement Nazi’s – that is an image from March 1920 during the Kapp Putsch, an attempt by members of the German military to overthrow the newly created Weimar Republic and replace it with a totalitarian regime with a restored German monarchy.  This particular attempt at a coup is a powerful moment in German history and an excellent reflection of the confused chaos that can occur in a post-war political environment when old foundations of society are overturned and the new ones still very fresh.  With the conclusion of World War I for Germany the period between 1918 – 1920 was an awkward one, the fighting was over but the peace treaty had not been created or signed, the German military was shrinking but still powerful, and units of paramilitary forces called Freikorps were roaming around working with the new Weimar government suppressing social unrest, with an emphasis on stomping out leftist uprisings and labor agitation.  The Kapp Putsch’s roots like in the Versailles Peace treaty of 1919 and its requirement that Germany reduce its military rapidly to a token force, this requirement involved a demand that all Freikorps units be disbanded as well.  In attempting to implement this order the Weimar government angered two of the most powerful Freikorps (and overall military units in Germany), the Marinebrigade Lowenfield and Marinebrigade Ehrhardt.  Rather then disband the units, and with a failure to negotiate an acceptable compromise with the Weimar government, the leaders of these two units, in collaboration with other German military figures, marched on Berlin.

Berlin, Kapp-Putsch, Putschisten

On 13 March 1920 the conspirators successfully occupied Berlin and forced the Weimar government of Germany to flee Berlin entirely, the government had to flee to two different cities and, when reassembled, called upon the German military to fire on the rebelling units and restore order.  The German military leadership refused to undertake such an activity, with almost the entire German officer corps either openly supporting the military coup and its new government or favoring it while remaining officially neutral to see how things panned out.  The Weimar government placed its hopes instead in a different strategy, calling on 13 March 1920 upon the citizens of Germany to take part in a general strike and shut down the rival government by simply refusing to interact with it.


It worked, to put it simply, the overwhelming mass of German citizens simply stopped working and refused to do any activities that supported the new government.  Services in Berlin collapsed entirely with the city suddenly having no gas, electricity, or water, the military government was forced to give orders to its units within the city by courier only.  Despite threats by the new government of mass shootings, along with offers to try to win the German working class back into the fold, had no impact and the military government collapsed entirely by 18 March 1920, with the rebelling units leaving Berlin and its major leaders either surrendering to the Weimar government or fleeing the country.

Yet the Kapp Putsch had unfortunate legacies which had yet to be fully corrected however it stands as one of the more impressive examples of what can be achieved by mass citizen resistance and effective major strikes on impacting government policy and even survival.

Sources:  Wikipedia article on the Kapp Putsch, Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the Kapp Putsch, Spartacus Educational entry on the Kapp Putsch, entry in the Rutledge Companion to Nazi Germany