Freikorps Epp

Franz Ritter von Epp

Franz Ritter von Epp

Franz von Epp

Franz Ritter von Epp was born in Munich in 1868, the son of the painter Rudolph Epp and Katharina Streibel. He spent his school years in Augsburg and after this joined the military academy in Munich. He served in China during the Boxer rebellion in 1900-01 and then became a company commander in the German colony of what is now Namibia

During the First World War, he was the commanding officer of a Bavarian regiment, the Infanterie-Leibregiment, in France, Serbia, Romania and at the Isonzo front. For his war service, he received a large number of medalsa nd was also knighted, being made Ritter von Epp on 25 February 1918

After the end of the war he formed the Freikorps Epp, a right-wing, paramilitary formation mostly made up of war veterans, of which future leader of the SA Ernst Röhm, was a member. It took part in the crushing of the Bavarian Soviet Republic in Munich in May 1919, being responsible for various massacres. He joined the Reichswehr and was promoted to Generalmajor in 1922. He took his leave from the German army after getting involved with right-wing associations in 1923.

Epp held the post as Reichsstatthalter in Bavaria from 1933 until the end of the war, but was politically insignificant. At the end of the war, he was imprisoned by the Americans and died in a prison camp in 1946

Freikorps Epp

Freikorps von Epp was formed 8 Feb 1919 in Ohrdruff. It was at first not allowed to recruit or train in Bavaria by the Bavarian government but after the intervention by Gustav Noske, a compromise was reached, recruitment was allowed in Bavaria, but training had to take place in Thuringia.  It saw action against the Münchener Räterepublik in Munich Apr-May and in the Ruhr Apr 1920.

 It was used to form Reichswehr-Brigade 21.

Order of battle

Freikorps Epp entering munich May 1919

Franz Epp led 30,000 soldiers to crush the Bavarian Socialist Republic in May, 1919. It is estimated that Epp's men killed over 600 communists and socialists over the next few weeks.

8 February 1919, the Epp Freikorps was established

March 1919 the Freikorps von Epp was expelled from Bavaria under pressure from Prussia

7 April Epp's Freikorps based itself in Bamberg. At the same time the government realised that it was failing to attract men to the volkswehr. And following the defeat of government troops by the Reds in the soviet rebublic of Dachau, the governemnt accepted the need for voluntary units. The first purely Bavarian Freikorps were then allowed to be created in northern Bavaria. The Bavarian Freikorps units together with units of the Prussian and Wurttemburg volkswehr total 19.000 men. To these were added men from souhern Bavarian Freikorps - mainly peasants, who made up these units.

13 April. Levine’s Communists take action in Bavaria. The KDP forms a militia, decrees a partial socialization of the economy and attempts to win the peasantry over to their cause. The Freikorps got into position on the Bavarian border. The plan was for a two-pronged attack to swing towards Munich from the north and west.  Once the outskirts of Munich were reached, they would consolidate, then launch an overwhelming assault on the city itself.

27 April, the Freikorps crossed the state line. The formations easily smashed the Red Army units facing them. 

29 April the Freikorps captured and shot 21 Red medical orderlies.  At the end of the day a ring of "white" forces surrounded Munich about 10 miles from the city centre.  It was decided to hold back the assault proper until after 1 May - May Day - for fear of making the Communists appear martyrs to their cause. Inside the city the first creeping waves of panic among the communists had started to spread once news of the nearing Freikorps armies became common knowledge.  Those men who had joined the Red Army simply for the food and cash slipped away, leaving Egelhofer less troops to organise his defence lines. 

30 April saw the last meeting of the Communist leadership.  Toller informed them that he had contacted Hoffman to open negotiations terms only to be rebutted - the Freikorps, Toller was told, would decide the terms.  On the streets a strange calm had descended as most people sensibly stayed indoors. When a false report that the Freikorps had taken the railway station reached the Communists, many of the leaders fled. Only Toller, Egelhofer and one of his bodyguards were left.  Levien made it out of the city and fled abroad, while Leviné and Axelrod raced off to find a suitable hiding place.  The "Russians" had deserted their own revolution.

Emboldened by the mass desertion the Red Army was experiencing, and the rumours that the Communist leadership was in disarray, many Conservative and far right factions rose up in armed resistance.  The Wittelsbach palace was taken along with a number of other central buildings.  Red banners were torn down and replaced with the traditional blue and white flags of Bavaria.  Cathedral bells rang out in celebration of the Reds forthcoming collapse.

On the outskirts of the city the Freikorps' armoured train fired off a few salvoes to emphasise their proximity and the destructive powers they had at their disposal.  Meanwhile, their aircraft took to the sky to drop leaflets giving warnings to those who would resist.  In the outskirts some streets were already in the hands of the Freikorps' forward units.

It was at this point that Egelhofer lost his head.  During the last remaining days of power, the communists had rounded up members of the bourgeois and those suspected of belonging to the Thule Society.  These hostages were held in the Luitpold Gymnasium's school buildings. Egelhofer on the night of the 30th ordered the execution of these prisoners.  Taken away in pairs they were either shot or bludgeoned to death with rifle butts.  To his credit, Toller raced to the scene as soon as he caught wind of Egelhofer's order, but by the time he had halted the massacre twenty prominent members of Munich society were dead - some were so badly mutilated that it was difficult to identify the bodies.

News of the hostage murders - Geiselmord - quickly filtered back to the Freikorps.  Jettisoning their plans for launching a strike on 2 May, it was decided to make an immediate attack on the morning of the 1st.  In the meantime the Red Army was shrinking as desertion from the ranks became epidemic.

As they had done in Berlin, the Freikorps ripped into the city.  Opposition, when it was encountered, was swiftly crushed - altogether only 70 Freikorps men lost their lives as opposed to the die-hard few hundred Red Army men.  The last stand of Munich's Red Army was at the city's central railway station.

2 May.  Most of the Red leaders were captured and shot. When they arrived in the city the Freikorps were welcomed.  By the time they left, even their supporters were glad to see the back of them. 

4 May In a 'pep' talk to his colleagues Major Schulz of the Lützow corps announced: " It's better to kill a few innocent people than to let one guilty person escape." According to David Clay Large 142 POWs were shot and were quickly followed by 186 executed after "lightning-fast court-martial proceedings".

5 May, 12 workmen denounced by a priest were shot.  On the next day, Catholic workers of a religious club met to discuss Education and the Theatre in a tavern on the Augustusstrasse.  Bursting in on them, a patrol of Freikorps collared thirty men and then had twenty of them butchered for being 'Communist terrorists'.  Over 1,000 people, it is estimated, lost their lives within the space of six days.

7 May von Oven reported to Noske that the city was 'cleansed'

13 May control was handed back to Hoffman.  And with that a very uneasy peace returned to Munich, although the scars of conflict ran deep.

14 May The Reichswehr-Brigade 21 München of the Vorläufige Reichswehr was formed from the Freikorps unit and was under the command of Generalleutnant Franz Ritter von Epp from 14 May 1919 - 30 Sep 1920. The new Reichswehr unit had an order of battle


Michael Keogh