The first Freikorps were recruited by Frederick II of Prussia in the 18th century during the Seven Years' War. On July 15, 1759, Frederick II ordered the creation of a squadron of volunteer hussars to be attached to the Hussar Regiment No. 1 von Kleist. He entrusted the creation and command of this new unit to Colonel Friedrich Wilhelm von Kleist. This first squadron (80 men) was raised in Dresden and consisted mainly of Hungarian deserters. This squadron was placed under the command of Lieutenant Johann Michael von Kovacs. At the end of 1759, the first 4 squadrons of dragoons (aka Horse-Grenadiers) of the Freikorps were organised. They initially consisted of Prussian volunteers from Berlin, Magdeburg, Mecklenburg and Leipzig but later recruited deserters. The Freikorps were regarded as unreliable by regular armies, so they were mainly used as sentries and for minor duties.
Throughout the 19th century, these anti-Napoleonic Freikorps were greatly praised and glorified by German nationalists, and a heroic myth built up around their exploits. This myth was invoked, in considerably different circumstances, in the aftermath of Germany's defeat in World War I.
On 5 May 1919, 12 workers (most of them members of the Social Democratic Party) were arrested and killed by members of Freikorps Lützow in Perlach near Munich based on a tip from a local cleric saying they were communists. A memorial on Pfanzeltplatz in Munich today commemorates the incident.
Freikorps also fought in the Baltic, Silesia, Poland and East Prussia after the end of World War I, including aviation combat, often with significant success. Anti-Slavic racism was present, although the ethnic cleansing ideology and anti-Semitism that would be expressed in later years was not developed yet. In Latvia Freikorps murdered 300 civilians in the town of Mitau that were suspected of having "Bolshevik sympathies" and after capture of Riga further 3000 people were killed, including summary executions of 50-60 prisoners daily. Though officially disbanded in 1920, many Freikorps attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the government in the Kapp Putsch in March 1920. Their attack was halted when German citizens who were loyal to the state went on strike, cutting off many services and making daily life so problematic that the coup was called off.
Hitler viewed some of them as threats. A huge ceremony was arranged on November 9, 1933 in which the Freikorps leaders symbolically presented their old battle flags to Hitler's SA and SS. It was a sign of allegiance to their new authority, the Nazi state. When Hitler's internal purge of the party, the Night of the Long Knives, came in 1934, a large number of Freikorps leaders were targeted for killing or arrest, including Ehrhardt and Röhm. Historian Robert GL Waite claims that in Hitler's "Röhm Purge" speech to the Reichstag on July 13, 1934, he implied that the Freikorps were one of the groups of "pathological enemies of the state".
Eley, Geoff (1990). "Conservatives and radical nationalists in Germany: the production of fascist potentials, 1912–28". In Martin Blinkhorn, ed., Fascists and Conservatives: The Radical Right and the Establishment in Twentieth-Century Europe (pp. 50–70). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN978-0-049-40087-0.