The Waffen-SS was the military formations of the Schutzstaffel (SS). Waffen in German means armed. The SS began as a small force and the units which served as the foundation of the Wafen SS were only a small part of the SS. It grew into a powerful force of 38 divisions, comprising the most powerful formations in the German military. Ironically it was SS units which Hitler used to suppress the SA which the army saw as a potential rival--the Night of the Long Knives. The Army in returned pledged their loyalty to Hitler. Ironically, the SS through theWaffen SS wuld itself grow into a potential threat to the Army. The Waffen-SS participated in World War II from the beginning in the invasion of Poland. At that time, the Waffen-SS consisted of only 3 not particularly proficient regiments. While small, it demostrated the savagery for which it became known throughout the War. The attrocities in Poland shicked theWhermacht, including Abwehr Chief Admiral Canaris. The Whermacht arrested some SS officers, but they were pardined by Hitler. After this, SS barbarity was no longer questioned. The growing Wffen-SS served alongside the Wehrmacht Heer units, but was never formally integrated into it. Hitler who dismanteled the SA at the request of the military commanders refused to allow the Waffen-SS to be integrated into theHeer. Hitler himsel had reason to distrust the SA. Under Himmler's leadership, however, the SS and Wafffen-SS became a force that Hitler could completely trust. The Waffen-SS was designed as the armed wing of the party and was to serve as an elite para-military police force after the War began. Before the War, the Waffen-SS was administered by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler through the SS Führungshauptamt (SS operational command office). Upon mobilization for War, the SS turned over tactical (but not organizational) control to the Wehrmacht High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht--OKW). The Waffen-SS rapidly increased its military proficency. And along with apauling attricities, its fighting spirit was legendary. Membership in the first Waffen-SS units were subject to the same strict Aryans racial policies of the SS itself. This changed after the outbreak of World War II. Hitler authorized the formation of units composed largely or solely of non-German volunteers and conscripts. At first this was volunteers from Nordic countries (Denmark, Flanders, the Netherlands, and Norway). German reverses forced the SS to significantly widen its recruitment efforts and not only to conscript members, but to to drop the Aryan racial requirement. The SS even formed with the assistance of the Grand Mufti, a Muslim Waffen-SS division in Kosovo-Bosnia. Eventually the Waffen-SS was much less ethnically German than the Wehrmacht. About 60 percent of the Waffen-SS strength was non-German. As Hitler's confidence in the Wehrmacht wained, he focused more on the SS, in part to maintain control over the Wehrmacht. Waffen-SS units were given priority in equipment, eapecially armor, over Wehrmacht units at a time when Germany was having trouble replaving battlefield losses. The Waffen-SS's attrocitiies were mostly committed in the East, but after the D-Day landings, the SS also was involved in shooting Allied POWs in France and Belgium. After the War, the Allies at the International Military Tribunals (Nuremberg Trials) classified the Waffen-SS along with the SSitself as a criminal organization.
The Waffen-SS was the military formations of the Schutzstaffel (SS). Waffen in German means armed. It was the tream of SS-Reich Führer Heinrich Himmler from an early point to build an armed fighting force.
The driving force behind the Waffen-SS was Reich Führer-SS Heinrich Himmler. One close associate wrote that it was the SS unit that he loved the most, 'as if were his own child'. In fact it was. His dream was to have a massive party force on a par with the Heer. Luftwaffe, and Kreiegsmarine.
The SS began as a small force and the units which served as the foundation of the Wafen SS were only a small part of the SS. There were different stages to this. At first it was the SA that was tryinhg to create a Party Army to replace the Whermacht. And the Army agreed to support Hitler unconditionally, if the SA was supressed in the Night of the Long Knives. The formation used to supress the SA which the army saw as a potential rival was the early incarmation of the Waffen-SS. The Army in return pledged their personal loyalty to Hitler. Eventually these small formations grew to an incredibly powerful and brutal component of the German armed forces--38 well-equipped combat divisions totaling nearly a million men. Ironically it was SS units which Hitler used to suppress the SA that would come to ribal the Whermacht.
From the earliest point in the development of the NAZI Party, the leadership quickly realized that a bodyguard unit was needed. Communist and others tried to break up rallies, especially after NAZI Party members began attacking other politicians, especially members of left-wing parties. Ernst Röhm began the process. He looked for strong, ardent, and reliable men. He formed the initial guard from the 19.Granatwerfer-Kompanie. This was the group from which the Sturmabteilung (SA) grew. Adolf Hitler as he gained control of the Party decided that he wanted a small separate, elir body guard specufically to be his bodyguard devoted to his service rather than ;a suspect mass' referring to the alreadu poorly disciplined SA (1923). Eight men were selected. They were commanded by Julius Schreck and Joseph Berchtold. This first bodyguard unit was named the Stabswache (staff guard). The Stabswache were issued unique badges, but not unifirmsand were still a SA unit. It was Schreck who came up with the Totenkopf (death's head) as an insignia. This as not an original idea. Various elite forces og the Prussian kingdom and the subsequent German Empire had used it.
After afew months, the unit was remamed the Stoßtrupp (Shock Troop) 'Adolf Hitler'. The Stoßtrupp was part of the force, including the SA and other NAZA pramilitary formations, Hitler amassed for his Munich Beer Hall Putsch (November 1923). As aesult of its failure, Hitler was arrested and the NAZO Party and its associated formations disbanded.
With jis release, the Party still faced a violent Munich political political enviroment an as aesult of his notariety he had become more of a target. He ordered that a personal bodyguard be reformned (1925). Thevnew unit was the Schutzkommando (protection command), but immeditely remame the Sturmstaffel (assault squadron),a nf finally the Schutzstaffe (SS) (Novembr 1925). After the Wall Street Crash and economic decline began in Germny, the NAZI Party grew exponentially as did its various units. The SS after the NAZIs seized power totaled some 50,000 men (1933). This was no longer an elite bodygard, although much smaller thsn the SA.
Thus Hitler ordered that a small, select bodyguard unit be formed within the SS--the Stabswache. Highly reliable men were chosen, mostly from the able 1st SS Standarte in Munich . Hitler put his close friend and driver in command--Josef "Sepp" Dietrich. He chose 117 men for what was called the SS-Stabswache Berlin. Many of these men would become high ranking officers in the futiure Waffen-SS as well as recipients of Germny's highest military honors. .
Soon after, two additional 'training' units were formed: SS-Sonderkommando Zossen and SS-Sonderkommando Jüterbog. These two were merged into the SS-Sonderkommando Berlin.
The Sondercommandis formatioin was given the honor of participting in 10 anniversary rally and memorial service commemorating the Beer Hall Putsch at the Feldherrnhalle (November 1933). This was memorial erected where many NAZI Party menbers had been shot during the Beer Hall Pusch. All members of the Sonderkommando swore personal allegiance to Hitler. To conclude this ceremony, the Sonderkommando was remamed Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH). This was essentially the first armed SS unit and SS-Reich F○hrer had obtained Hitlker's approval. The members were SS men that had been part of the Freikorps and the Reichswehr along with various right-wing paramilitary formations. The first major action of the LAH was to eviserate the leadership of the SA which had grown into a huge chaotic body which terrified the Reichwehr commanders. They did this in whatvbecame known as the Night of the Long Knives orchestrated by Himmler and his deputy Reihrd Heydrich (1934). The Reichwehr provided weapons. The LAH was redesinated the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) (April 13, 1934). The LSSAH would eventually become the 1st SS-Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (1941).
Hitler after being appointed chancellor (January 1933) was not firmly in power. Several other chancellors had come and gone after only a short period. Hitler had no intention of going and was prepared to violate the law and use force to remain in power. Given the regime's vulnerable, a totally relaible armed force was needed to deal with possible threats, essentially to exercize political violence in a more disciplined way rhan the SA. Such threats included counterrevolutions and strikes possible riots. And there was also the possible need to conduct purses. Hitler in that first year could not count on the reliability of the Reichwehr or the police. And the SA while large was not only not completely reliable to Hitler personally and anetma to the Reichweht which still had the capability of deposing Hitler. Hitler did have the Sondercommandos Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH) and Güring and Himmler quickly gained control of the police. His secret rearmament program gained important support within the Reichwehr. A year after seizing power Hitle decided ro reorganize the command structure of his personal armed units. With the Reichwehr generals focused on the SA threat and government finds now availanle, Hitler officially formed the SS-Verfügungstruppen (Special Purpose Troops/Dispositional --SS-VT) (September 24, 1934), but not announced publically. The term dipositional troops is sometimes used as they were at the personal disposal of Hitler whoi after Hindenburg's death was now styled Führer. The SS-VT was formed from the merger of different Nazi Party and SS paramilitary formations. Thesev included the SS-Sonderkommandos (SS Special Detachments) and the SS-Stabswache (Headquarters Guard units. The newly constituted SS-VT was authorized to have three regiments designed along the lines of a Heer infantry regiment. The regiment was historicall the tradition backbone of European armies for centuries. The SS-VY regiments adopted this basic tradition and Heer regulations. Each regiment would consist of three battalions. A motorcycle company and mortar company gave each regiment communication and fore power support. While under Hitler's control, the SS-VT was to be turned ovr to the Heer in time of war. The existence of the SS-VT was finally announced publicly in a speech to the Reichstag (March 16, 1935). For a time the LAH wa not included in th SS-VT structure. The SS-VT and the LAH/LssAH, however, trained together.
The foundation of the Waffen-SS is most accurately seen as the foundation of the VT-SS (1934). The name Wafen-SS ans World war II command structure appeared only later. The term Waffen-SS began to be used as part of the preparation for the great Western offensive. Himmler reached an agreement with the Heer (March 1940). This was the first time the term Waffen-SS was officiallu used. Himmler after the campaign in France obtained Hitler's approval for the Waffen-SS to form its own high command independent of the Heer and OKW--the Kommandoamt der Waffen-SS within the SS-Führungshauptamt (August 1940). The SS-Führungshauptamt (SS Leadership Main Office--SS-FHA) was the SS operational headquarters. It is at this time that the SS-VT, the Leibstandarte, and the Verfügungs-Division (renamed Das Reich) and the various armed SS-TV regiments (the Totenkopf-Division and various other Totenkopf-Standarten) are combined into one overall combined command structure.
The growing Waffen-SS served alongside the Wehrmacht Heer units, but was never formally integrated into it. Hitler who dismanteled the SA at the request of the military commanders refused to allow the Waffen-SS to be integrated into theHeer. Heinrich Himmler through the SS Führungshauptamt (SS operational command office). Upon mobilization for War, the SS turned over tactical (but not organizational) control to the Wehrmacht High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht--OKW)
While Himmler could build a small force without Hitler's approval. Build a massive Party army required Hitler's approval and support. Hitler hs not left a record of his assessment or a far as we know explained his policy in any detail to his intements. There must have been discussions with Himmler, but as far as we know there is no record of them. There were several different threads which mudt have affected his thinking. Himmler's move to create an armed wing came just after the SA priblem had been resolved in the Night of the Long Knives action. Röem and the SA could easily have ended Hitler's control of the Party. Thus he probably was not anxious go have another large para-mikitary force to contend with. And he had to carefully manage the generals who insisted that the Whermacht have a monopoly on armed force. That was the agreement cut in 1934. As a result, he insisted that Himmler strictly limit the size of the developing Waffen-SS. And he further mollified the generals by insisting that when the War came, they operate under Wehrmscht control in the field. The manpower limit was only 25,000 in 1939. The War would, however, quickly change this.
Hitler himself had reason to distrust the SA. Under Himmler's leadership, however, the SS and Wafffen-SS became a force that Hitler could completely trust. The Waffen-SS was designed as the armed wing of the party and was to serve as an elite para-military police force after the War began. Before the War, the Waffen-SS was administered by Reichsführer-SS .
The Waffen-SS at first under different names such as the LAH and VT-SS eibstandarte Adolf Hitler participated in all the major campaigns of the NAZI Germany. It was the LAH that carried out the Night of the Long Knives supressing the SA. The SS-VT participated in all the pre-War actions, including the remilitarization of the Rhineland (March 1936), Austrian Anchluss (March 1938), the seuzure of the Sudetenland (October 1938), and invasion of Czechoslovakia (March 1939). The VT-SS at this time was small and poorly armed. The Wehermacht sa them as asphalt soldiers, meaning parade ground formations. They did, however, provide teeth to the Einsatzgruppen formed to hunt down anti-NAZIS and firmly implant German control. These were all unopposed actions, Hitler having successfully backed sdown the allies committed to Britidh Prime Minister Chamberlain's Appeasen=ment policies. The next target was Poland which prepared to fight and Hitler in fact actually wanted an armed conflict, although he did not really expect yhe British and French to declare war. In this atmpsphere, the SS-VT was given intensive military training and formed into combat-ready military units. Three SS-TV regiments (Standarten) were organized and ready for the invasion of Poland. In addition, elements of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), the Deaths Head formations created from guards and personnel of the SS concentration camp system participated as VT-SS unit. These units were proved not particularly proficient regiments. They demonstrated the savagery, if not yet the proficency, for which they became known throughout the War. They suffered relatively high casualties. Himmler alluded to their galentry. The Wehrmacht generals though they were poorly trained and led. They also complained that the VT-SS units were 'frigid if not hostile' to the Wehrmacht units. Some Whermacht officers were horrified with their savergy. Hitler was impressed and dimissed charges against the VT-SS men. The VT-SS regiments which fought in Poland were expanded into brigades and eventually full divisions. This purely military branch of the SS was at first known as the Bewaffente-SS (Armed-SS) and eventially the waffen-SS with the same meaning. The Waffen-SS participated in all the major German military campaings of World War II beginning with the invasion of Poland (September 1939). The Waffen-SS played a more important role during the campaign in France (May-June 1940). The VT-SS had grown, then totaling about 125,000 men. They pressed the British at Dunkirk. During the campaign Waffen-SS commanders ordered the shooting of two groups of British POWs. There were survivors from ibith incidents so the British learned from an early stage the character of the SS and its military arm.
It is after the campaign in France, the VT-SS was remamed the Waffer-SS. As the War continued the Waffen-SS grew and became an increasingly important compnnt of the German miitary. Hitler launched Barbarossa (June 1941). It was designed as a short summer campaign. When the Red Army not only held before Lenningrad and Moscow,but launched a counterattack (December 1941), the character of the War changed dramatically as did the size and importance of the Waffen-SS. It was in the Soviet Union that the Waffen-SS assumed its important role would play its most important role. The SS emerged as a major part of the NAZI military force structure with some of its most powerful formations.
The Waffen-SS rapidly increased its military proficency as the War developed. And along with apauling attrocities, its fighting spirit was legendary. As Hitler's confidence in the Wehrmacht wained, he focused more on the SS, in part to maintain control over the Wehrmacht. Waffen-SS units were given priority in equipment, eapecially armor, over Wehrmacht units at a time when Germany was having trouble replaving battlefield losses. The Wehrmacht commanders at first studiously avoided giving any credit to the Waffen-SS, Himmler made sure Hitler was informed of their exploits and he was impressed. By the time of the French cmpaign, the Waffen-SS had been expanded, but was still relatively small. They also had more battlefield experience and training than they exhibited in Poland. The effectivness of the Waffen-SS units were due to a variety of factors. Waffen-SS divisions were larger than regular Heer divisions. They were also better equipped. Unlike the cHeer, all Waffen-SS divisions had fully motorized infantry components. They also were committed NAZIs fully embracing National Socialist ideology. Hitler recognized this and publically praised 'the valliant divisions and regiments of the Waffen-SS' in a Reichstag speech (July 1940). This was thecfirstvtime that most Germans had ever heard of the Waffen-SS.
Membership in the first Waffen-SS units were subject to the same strict Aryans racial policies of the SS itself.
The first members were recruited from three SS units: !) the Leibstandarte-SS (Hitler's personal body vgusrd), 2) the Death'shead battalions (concentration camp guards), and 3) the SS training schools commanded by Paul Hausser. Applicants
had to meet strict standards. The Leibstandarte men, for example had to meet extrodinarily strict standards. They had to be at least 5 feet 11 inches high. Himmler bragged that even one tooth filling woukd disqualify them. Himmler dreamed of a Waffen-SS formned from such maginficent Aryan specimens. One wonders just how the spdctacled Himmler thought of himseld or the men recruited thought of their leader. This changed after the the War began go go wring with the NAZIs. Hitler authorized the formation of units composed largely or solely of non-German volunteers and conscripts. At first this was Aryan volunteers from Nordic countries (Denmark, Flanders, the Netherlands, and Norway). German reverses forced the SS to significantly widen its recruitment efforts and not only to conscript members, but to to drop the Aryan racial requirement. The SS even formed with the assistance of the Grand Mufti, a Muslim Waffen-SS division in Kosovo-Bosnia. Ironically the Waffen-SS was eventually much less ethnically German than the Wehrmacht. About 60 percent of the Waffen-SS strength was non-German.
The Germans fielded 38 Waffen-SS divisions which cut a swath of barbarity across Europe from the Volga to the Pyranees during World War II. Each Swaffen-SS unit has its own well-documnted story. Some had origins that pre-dated the creation of the Waffen-SS and were formed around various SS units such as Hitler's personal body guard and concentration camp guards. They SS Divisions tended to be some of the most feared combat formations in World War II, largely because of their passionate ideological fervor and the fact that they recived a priority in being equipped with the Reich's best arms and equipment. Tgey also had both abnormally high casualty rates and a well derved reputtion for brutlity and war crimes. These divisions fought alongside Wehrmacht divisions, but were never part of the Wehrmacht. Interestingl for an organization passionately devoted to German/Aryan racial superiority, they uncluded non-German formtions included people to be targeted under Genealplan Ost. There were also Muslim unts.
The 3rd SS Totenkopf (Death's Head) Division ,(3. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf/ 3. SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf. As the number indicates, it as one of the earlist Waffen-SS divisions. Himmler began by forming small units as he sought to create his own military force. It was formed as Kampfgruppe Eicke. The division Totenkopf division is infamous due to its insignia and even more fact that the enlisted men were initially drawn from SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS concentration camp guards). Many were anxious to participate in the War, both out of ideological fervor and the importance of war service in building their SS careers. We believe the SS incouraged guards to complete actual military service. The Totenkopf division was one of the Waffen-SS's 'Germanic' divisions'. Others included Leibstandarte, Adolf Hitler, Das Reich, and Wiking. The Totenkopf Division fought with Rommel's 7th Panzer Army in France ((May-June 1940). The Division's barbarity begun there from the onset. They machine gunned 97 men of the British Norfolk Regiment that had been taken prisoners. The Division got Tigers and Panthers for the epic battle of Kursk (July 1943). It continued fighting to the end of the War.
Hitler Youth boys were fed into the Wehrmacht. One panzer division was actually organized from HJ recruits. The decission was made to form the unit in 1943. Youth Leader Axman organized it as a birthdate present for the Führer. It was the famed 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend of the Waffen SS. The Division was commanded by Germany's youngest general, Kurt Meyer. There were 50 Wehrmacht officers selected that had been Hitler Youth leaders were assigned to the new Division and were used to form the core of it. HJ boys that demonstrated leadership skills were selected for NCO school. The SS ordered 10,000 boys in the Summer of 1943 to report for basic training. Many of these boys were still 16. Most of the rest were 17 years old. The training was just like any Waffen SS unit, with one exception. The HJ boys received a candy ration rather than the cigarette ration normally given to soldiers. The division was deployed to France in preparation for the anticipated Allied invasion. The Division went into action in June 1944 against the Canadians trying to take Caen during the Normandy campaign. The reckless courage the boys showed fighting the British before Caen was legendary. The Division itself was desimated. They managed to destroy 28 tanks while losing only 6 of their own. The ferocity of this division was said to be "seldom equalled and never excelled during the whole campaign." The Division suffered high casualties, in part because of the reckless courage og the HJ boys. After only the first month of figthing, the Division lost 20 percent of its strength killed, 40 percent were wounded and 50 percent of its armored vehicles were lost. This HJ Division proved one of the most fanatical in the Wehrmacht. Although heavily outnumbered by British and Canadian units and totally lacking air support, yhe Division stalled the Mongomery's advance for weeks. Montgomery was not able to break through Caen until the U.S. Third Army under Patton had broken out at St Lo. With the American breakout the Sivision was in retreat (July 1944). Only about 600 men left managed to get back to the Reich. All of their tanks were lost. Field Marshal von Rundstedt said, "It is a pity that this faithful youth is sacrificed in a hopeless situation."
The attrocities in Poland shocked the Whermacht, including Abwehr Chief Admiral Canaris. The Whermacht arrested some SS officers, but they were pardined by Hitler. After this, SS barbarity was no longer questioned. The Waffen-SS's attrocitiies were mostly, but not entirely, committed in the East. The Waffen SS shot British POW during the first French campsign (1940). Captain Fritz Knoclein (Death's-head division) driving on Dunkirk ordered a group of about 100 British POWs shot in a meadow near the small French village of Paradis. Two of the British soldiers pretended to be dead and survived. Also along the collapsing Dunkirk perimeter, another Waffen-SS commander (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler division) the following day ordered another group of British POWs shot. The men were killed in an disorganized action by firing squad, individual, automatic weaons fire, and hand grendes. Here 15 of the POWs escaped. The Wehrmacht learned of the incidents and many officers were apauled, but because of Hitler's intervention in similar incidents in Poland none of the men were disciplined in any way. We do not know what extent Sepp Dietrich who commanded the Leibstandarte-SS division was involved in the execution killings of POWs. He was, however, a Hitler intimate and former body guard. Not only were Dietrich and his commanders not disciplined, but he would be given command of an entire Panzer Army.
After the D-Day landings, the SS also was involved in shooting Allied POWs in France and Belgium (1944). Heydrich drew a substantial portion of Einsatzgruppen members from the Waffen SS. We are not sure yet how they were chosen. After the War, the Allies at the International Military Tribunals (Nuremberg Trials) classified the Waffen-SS along with the SS itself as a criminal organization.
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