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Hitler's Failed Coup

Hitler planned for his march to Berlin for 8 November 1923 – his version of the fascist march on Rome in October 1922. Hitler's march was to be the fifth anniversary of the first Soviet takeover in Munich. In the evening of that day, Hitler's troops surrounded the town hall where Bavaria's state commissioner general, Gustav von Kahr was to speak. Hitler and a few others entered the crowded hall, Hitler wearing his Iron Cross and carrying a revolver. He shot a round into the ceiling to get attention. Hitler's troops blocked the hall's doors. Hitler announced that the "national revolution" had begun. With Kahr was the General von Lossow. Hitler led these two men into an adjoining room, told them that a new government had been formed that was supported by Erich Ludendorff, and he proclaimed that the two had no choice but to join his rising and that if he failed he would kill himself. It was an odd way to form an alliance. Kahr and von Lossow tried to humor Hitler, assuring him of their support. Hitler then returned to the hall where he triumphantly told his captive audience that a new Bavarian government had been formed under Kahr and that a new national government had been formed led by himself, with Ludendorff as the supreme commander of a new nationalist army.

Hitler's force in Munich consisted of fully trained, partially trained and untrained men thrown together. Few world war veterans were among them. Many were high school and university students too young to have fought in the war. They were without good communications between units and without capable group leaders. They were without artillery. But the rebels believed that von Lossow's army was on their side. On the scene and taking his place as military commander of Hitler's coup, Ludendorff said that "the heavens will fall before the Bavarian Reichwehr (Army) turns against me."

Hitler believed in the magic of the Ludendorff name, and Ludendorff ordered a bunch of Nazi kids to take a government building in Munich. The kids and police faced each other at point blank range, neither wanting to start shooting. With the police unwilling to back down, the kids did, and they scattered.

Other forces under Ludendorff smashed the local Social Democrat newspaper and captured offices of the War Ministry, but when they tried to occupy police headquarters, the police refused to join the revolt and arrested them. Ludendorff's forces remained without their planned control of the city's communication and transportation centers. Kahr and von Lossow, free of Hitler facing them with his pistol, renounced their promise to Hitler. And Kahr announced that he was dissolving Hitler's National Socialist party – a betrayal that Hitler would not forget.

The second day of the coup – November 9th – began with the army in Bavaria on alert at its base, awaiting orders. Ludendorff's forces were alone and outnumbered. Ludendorff had again miscalculated. Bavaria's army was defying him. A showdown between the National Socialists and Munich's authorities came around noon. Hitler, Ludendorff and about two thousand followers were marching toward the city center, with flags flying and singing patriotic songs, with Hitler hoping to pick up supporters as they marched. The parade came upon a line of police. As Hitler approached the police he ordered them to surrender. A shot was fired, believed by some to have come from among Hitler's marchers. Then many of the police began firing, the gunfire between the police and the rebels lasted two or three minutes. Hitler threw himself down, as any good soldier would, but he dislocated his shoulder. Ludendorff marched through the firing, policemen perhaps taking care not to aim at him.

Hitler's coup was over. The bulk of the marchers and Hitler had fled the scene. There would be no march to Berlin. Four policemen and fourteen of Hitler's supporters – mostly youths – were dead. Ludendorff was taken into custody. A police official offered to inform Ludendorff's family that he was safe and sound. Ludendorff shouted that he wanted no favors and that he would no longer wear his uniform. He screamed that he was a prisoner, and as a prisoner he wanted to be escorted to the bathroom to urinate. No one would escort him, and nature prevailed as Ludendorff relented and went to the urinal by himself. Soon afterward, Ludendorff was released.

Hitler had not shot himself as he had promised, and two days after the coup he too was arrested, and soon was released. Ludendorff, Hitler and others were charged with treason and ordered to stand trial, which was to take place in March 1924. Kahr and Lossow retired from public life. Bavaria began rebuilding its links to the federal government in Berlin, and Bavaria's new government kept in place Kahr's ban against the National Socialists.


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