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German History in Documents and Images
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Members of the People's Naval Division on the Balcony of the City Palace (December 1918)
The People’s Naval Division was a paramilitary security force, initially under the control of the Berlin chief of police, to guarantee the public peace and protect the new government. This force was filled with revolutionary naval soldiers and civilians. Part of it was billeted in the Berlin Palace, a former residence of the Hohenzollerns. These troops soon proved difficult to control, however, so on December 23, 1918, the Council of People’s Representatives ordered a considerable reduction in the force’s size and its withdrawal from the palace. But the soldiers refused to vacate the palace without the pay still owed them, leading to armed encounters – supported by other revolutionary elements – with the regular army, the Reichswehr. The mutineers occupied the Reich Chancellery and brought the city commander, Otto Wels, under their control. After a bloody rebellion on December 24, when the People’s Naval Division gained the upper hand, the Council of People’s Representatives had to give in. The peaceful revolution had begun to manifest violence. The photograph shows the palace facade damaged by the house-to-house fighting and members of the People’s Naval Division surveying the damage from a balcony.