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I. The Downfall of the Weimar Republic and the German Civil War
1. OUTBREAK - JANUARY TO MARCH 1933
Negotiations to create a new parliamentary cabinet in the Weimar Republic break down. Adolph Hitler, leader of the NSDAP and the National Socialist (Nazi) movement, demands to be appointed chancellor. He is deceived in repeated negotiations with Franz Von Papen, who is playing different sides in an attempt to retain power for himself. As the Kurt Von Schleicher cabinet begins to disintegrate, the political and social chaos in Germany grows. Street violence reaches a frenzied pitch as both the Nazi and Communist parties battle each other while terrorizing the general populace. Hitler and the Nazis feel that their moment to seize power is slipping away from them, given the result of the recent November elections, and they become increasingly desperate and bold. All this comes to a head at the end of the month when Hitler meets with President Von Hindenburg. He goes in expecting to be named chancellor; however, once again, only the position of Vice-Chancellor is offered. Hitler leaves the meeting in a rage, and he begins to make plans for alternative routes to power.
On the 5th of the month, Hitler makes a speech in Berlin telling his followers that "our rightful road to power has been blocked by the corruption and decadence of those who hold Germany and its people down. Violence may now be the only answer." On the same day, riots break out across Germany and NSDAP legislators once again boycott sitting in the Reichstag. Communist party legislators do the same, and both movements make a direct appeal to the German people to resist the current government. Ironically, this boycott allows members of the Social Democratic and Centre Party to create an emergency coalition. This coalition begins to form an alliance with President Von Hindenburg and the German military to oppose extremist forces. On February 15th, the Reichstag is engulfed in flames and burns to the ground. Although no one is ever found responsible for the fire, suspicion is cast on both the Nazis and the Communists. The Centre-SD coalition meets in secret and passes an Emergency Act that temporarily suspends elections and calls for the arrest of Nazi and Communist leaders.
Hitler had actually hoped to ally with the German army in order to restore and rearm Germany. It is believed that at this point he begins to lose an internal battle with those who believe the SA (Sturmabteilung) should become the Army of Germany and bring about a true National Socialist revolution. Hitler had hoped to use these forces to take power legitimately and then realize his vision of a Nazi Germany. He never gets the chance to.
In response to the Emergency Act, Communist and Nazi groups escalate their actions and seize police stations, factories and even an Army base. Political assassinations occur, the first and most prominent victim being former Chancellor Von Schleicher. Nazis carry out ethnic pogroms against Jews across the country, while Communists target business leaders. The death tool begins to climb into the hundreds within days. A general strike is called and Germany's economy is paralyzed.
Von Hindenburg and the governing coalition begin to expand the German armed forces, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Britain and France do not protest, fearing a Communist takeover of Germany.
In the USSR, Joseph Stalin begins plans to aid the Communists in Germany, if it is possible to do so without provoking the capitalist powers of the West.
As the Communist and Nazi movements become more revolutionary, more moderate members of both parties slowly begin to bleed away, reluctantly being drawn toward the new Centre-SD coalition. This exodus is boosted when the right-wing DNVP joins the coalition in the last week of the month. They become the German Government Coalition, dedicated to "the re-establishment of law and order within the whole of Germany".
As February comes to a close, the civil strife and disorder begins to lessen. Hitler and other Nazi leaders are in hiding, and the government has achieved relative control of a number of larger German cities. It looks as if the Weimar constitutional crisis may be at an end.
The possibility of peace is shattered during the week of March 2nd-9th, when groups of leading Nazis are captured and arrested, including Hitler and Hermann Goring. In response to this, many Nazi leaders at the state and federal governmental levels openly take power of different government agencies and ministries and work to disrupt the normal functioning of government. Some units of the armed forces go over to the Nazis and renewed rounds of fighting ensue, this time worse than in February.
On March 15th, tens of thousands of SA agitators and street fighters fill the streets of Berlin. They attack government ministries, foreign embassies, and synagogues. In running battles with police and soldiers, hundreds are killed, and, by the evening, the SA is in control of the streets. Many regard this as the official outbreak of the German Civil War.
2. THE COURSE OF THE WAR - 1933
Spring and Summer
The battle of Berlin between the SA and the units of the German Army loyal to the German Government Coalition ends with the retreat of the army to points outside the city. Prominent national and political figures are evacuated from the capital as well. A blockade is set up around the city as the SA and Nazi forces within the German capital are cut off from outside help. While this works to isolate and eventually defeat these forces by the end of March, it causes an estimated two thousand deaths in the civilian population.
Similar battles take place across Germany throughout 1933 as both Nazi and Communist groups attempt to take power in a number of cities. In some cases, such as Hamburg, this control is held for over a month until forces can arrive to restore the city to government control.
As the summer wears on, the Nazis and Communists resort to guerrilla tactics that aim to further disrupt the German economy. They attack railroads and ambush government forces in rural areas, working to make conditions steadily more miserable and destroy any faith in the existing government. To some degree this works, as many sectors of Germany industry remain on strike, wealthier Germans flee the country, and there are spontaneous, non-political outbursts of civil violence due to shortages and privation. However, at the same time, the Nazis and Communists appeared to be losing a war of attrition, their numbers steadily dropping due to casualties and defection. Many ordinary Germans are coming over to the side of the government in hopes that the Civil War will end quickly and some stability can be found.
Two incidents in the fall, however, escalate the conflict and drag in other nations.
Munich and Kiel
After their initial urban terror tactics do not work, some within the Nazi movement decide to take a more strategic approach to the conflict and work on creating a stronghold, a base from which they could establish and defend themselves, and then possibly spread out from there. The city chosen for this is Munich, the site of their previous attempt to seize power a decade before.
The Nazis leave much of the guerrilla fighting in Northern Germany to the Communists, with most of their supporters and fighters heading south. After the seizure of an army base outside the city, the now-familiar sight of thousands of SA members swarming a city's streets is seen once again. This time, however, bands of Nazi guerrillas outside the city surprise approaching Government forces and push them back.
Days later, where it appears Government forces are not returning, the Nazis declare a provisional NSDAP government in Munich, called the "Third Reich" or "True Germany". They call upon all who resist the unnatural Weimar government to come south and join them in the liberation of Germany.
The creation of the Third Reich is followed by a series of small victories for the Nazis as they spread throughout Bavaria. By the end of the year, the Nazis control a stretch of territory that includes almost all of Bavaria and threatens Frankfurt in the north and Stuttgart in the West. They now have very few fighters in the northern part of the country, their bid for victory now centered on their redoubt in the south.
To many observers both inside and outside of Germany, it seems as if the Nazis and Communists are no longer fighting each other as much, and that a de facto alliance is in place.
The naval city of Kiel is targeted by the Communists. Their fighters and supporters move into the city and take up positions directly outside it. Inroads have been made into the local unions as well as elements of the German Navy. Finally, a plan devised by Stalin in the USSR is implemented, thus beginning the first foreign intervention in the Germany Civil War.
On October 6th, Communist forces capture shipyards, city hall, and police stations across the city. A short naval battle takes place between different elements of the German Navy, with the Communist/Nazi faction just barely winning. During the four days of fighting, a number of ships dock and unload weapons and 'volunteer' fighters for the German cause; one of these volunteers is later arrested and confirms after interrogation that he is Russian and the ships that appeared had done so under the aegis of the USSR.
Within a week the Communists have a small enclave of their own in the north, one which they manage to retain for the next three months.
A similar, but smaller-scale attempt is made by Communists to seize the East Prussian city of Konigsberg in November. This attempt does not succeed, coming to a bloody end after ten days of fighting and hundreds of deaths. The battle of Konigsberg, however, has greater international significance. In addition to a number of ships showing up to offer supplies and manpower, the USSR also sends undercover agents across Poland and Lithuania to enter East Prussia. A number of these are stopped and detained in Poland and tension between Poland and the USSR grows.
Foreign Intervention and Conflict
In December 1933, foreign observers come to the conclusion that the German Civil War is not going to come to a quick end. The Communists still hold the city of Kiel, despite two recent Government offensives to retake it. Additionally, despite their defeat in the battle of Frankfurt, the Nazi government of the Third Reich in the south is still strong and threatening the security of Germany itself and its neighbors. In the last month of 1933, a number of different nations intervene in the war on all fronts.
In the east, the growing diplomatic row between Poland and the USSR over the passage of Soviet agents through Poland escalates and turns into a series of border skirmishes. Lithuania joins Poland in protesting the USSR's actions and the two nations negotiate a strategic defensive alliance. This eventually grows to include Estonia, Lithuania, and Finland, and in April of 1934 the Baltic League is created. This alliance unites these countries in a pledge to defend each other from any act of foreign aggression; it is directed primarily at the Soviet Union.
At the same time, the growing chaos in East Prussia leads a controversial Polish decision to send troops into that German province. At first this is vehemently protested by the German government. However, as the Poles gradually begin to restore order, they arrest and wipe out Nazi and Communist forces within the province and pledge that they will withdraw once a legitimate government can take over from them. A cause of future conflict occurs, however, when Polish forces occupy the free city of Danzig as well, an action that draws little attention from the League of Nations.
In the west, French and Belgian forces decide to expand their occupation of the Saarland, restoring Allied control of the Rhineland, which had only ended three years before. Again, this action is publicly described as being necessary to restore public order and protect civilians; some cynically believe the French are just worried about the collapsing German state not being able to continue making reparation payments. In any case, once more there is protest from the German government coalition, but again they are actually aided by the actions of the French army in routing out Nazi and Communist forces in the province.
This intervention, however, causes some problems for the French both in Germany and at home. They wind up fighting three different groups of Germans: Nazis, especially in areas where they border the Nazi redoubt; Communists, who also create problems back in France with protests and strikes; and nationalist Germans who do not like to see French troops occupying their homeland once again.
Lastly, in the south, the Nazis do not confine their attempts to spread their power to Germany alone. Nazi agitation grows just across the border in Austria, with riots and demonstrations occurring in Vienna and Innsbruck. Nazis forces even make a brazen attempt to seize the border city of Salzburg in October, only to be beaten back by the Austrian army.
Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss uses the German Civil War and its spilling chaos to persecute his enemies within Austria and take over that country. Communist, Social Democrat and NSDAP party members are all arrested and their movements made illegal. Sporadic instances of violence and insurrection occur across the country in response, but gradually Dollfuss is able to seize control.
An admirer of Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism, Dollfuss puts into place what he calls the "Austrian Idea", a homegrown form of fascism. He also appeals to Mussolini to protect Austria's independence. In exchange for the implementation of fascism in Austria, Italian troops are invited into the country to protect it from the violence in Germany. Clashes occur between Nazi forces and Italian troops along the Austrian border and Mussolini denounces the Nazis as "little better than Bolshevists".
3. 1934 - THE COURSE AND END OF THE WAR
The Death of Hitler
The Nazis inaugurate 1934 by launching an attempt to free Hitler and other leading Nazis. Sources within the government reveal to them three locations in which Nazi and Communist leaders are being held. These are special holding camps, which contain larger prisons for a bulk of the captured fighters, and then smaller facilities in which key prisoners are held. One is near Dresden, a second close to Hamburg, and the third just outside of Berlin near Potsdam. It is at the last Hitler is being held and it was here the Nazis assemble the bulk of their forces.
The escape attempt is made on January 20th, and it does not go well for the Nazis. It is later discovered that the same sources that tipped them off to the locations of the camps also informed Government forces of the Nazi efforts at rescue. In the Dresden and Hamburg attempts, almost all of the Nazi attackers are killed or captured. The attempt at Potsdam is slightly more successful, in that some of the Nazis get away, and even some of the prisoners manage to escape. However, in the general chaos that envelopes the camp and prison, Hitler himself is killed, shot by guards before he could get away, as are other leading Nazis including Hermann Goring and Joseph Goebbels.
Although it is not recognized at the time, this is a key turning point in the Civil War. Even though the Nazis had been without these leaders, they had served well as symbols and martyrs, figures to rally around. Now, however, it causes a crisis of faith within the movement and leads to a change in direction that proved fatal.
The Fall of Kiel and the Communist-Nazi Union
German government forces recapture the city of Kiel from the Communist at the end of January. The city itself is in ruins after weeks of street fighting, the shipyards are completely destroyed, and the German navy is out of commission. Surviving Communists scatter from the city and join with cells and bands across the country to re-ignite the guerrilla war.
At the same time, large-scale changes take place within the Nazi movement. The Strasser brothers, Gregor and Otto, who had previously lost initiatives to pull the NSDAP party over to the left, now form an alliance with Ernst Rohm to take the Nazis back in that direction. Violence breaks out within the party itself, the most prominent victim being Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS (Schutzstaffel), which is incorporated back into the SA after his death. With the fall of Kiel and the failure of Stalin to offer continued assistance to German Communists, action is taken to unite both Nazis and Communists under a Nationalist Bolshevist banner to oppose the German Government Coalition and bring about a true revolution in Germany.
As Communist forces become more isolated, a number of their more radical members go south to join the Nazis in their redoubt. At the same time, within the Nazi-governed Third Reich, a number of sweeping social and political reforms are put in place, including nationalization of businesses. As well, anti-Semitic pogroms are stepped up, with every Jewish citizen within the Third Reich being either killed, arrested or expelled.
The result of this alliance alters the course of the war in the first half of 1934. Increasing numbers of Germans flee the Third Reich and go north, including many onetime middle-class supporters of the Nazis. Additionally, many moderate Communists either leave Germany or find protection with the Social Democratic Party, which was part of the German Government Coalition, and technically still legal. Germans turn against the extremist forces, and the fighting in the Civil War dies down in many parts of the country, with the south and the Third Reich becoming the main focus of conflict in the last half of 1934.
The End of the War - July to November, 1934
As guerrilla fighting dwindles off in much of the country, and with foreign armies occupying troublesome border regions, the German Government forces now carry out a broad offensive against the Third Reich in the south. Step by step, through the late summer and into the fall, they press onto the Nazis from different directions, capturing cities, taking major transportation, and slowly choking the Nazi Redoubt. They collaborate with French and Italian forces to close off entries and exits to Bavaria.
The first direction they strike from is the west, taking Stuttgart, the Nazis' last triumph back in February, on August 3rd. They then move onto to Ulm and Augsburg before stopping just short of Munich. As the Nazis pull forces from other sectors to respond, a second offensive is launched by Government forces from the north. Wurzburg and Nuremburg fall in October and the Danube is crossed just before Halloween. The final act of the Third Reich plays out in November with the battle of Munich.
Pushed in on 2 sides, the Nazis initially retreat outside the city and then attack behind the Government forces, attempting to encircle their enemies. Again, civilian casualties are high, as are deaths on both sides. The wreckage that is much of Munich is proclaimed to be 'liberated' by the German Government Coalition on Nov 21st, 1934. A few final skirmishes take place to the south of Munich, but most of these are small and end with the surrender of remaining Nazis. Some Nazis try to escape across the Austrian border, where they cause problems for Austrian and Italian authorities for the next few months, but most are captured.