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Waffen-SS

From Academic Kids

Waffen-SS recruitment poster;"Volunteer to the Waffen-SS"
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Waffen-SS recruitment poster;
"Volunteer to the Waffen-SS"

The Waffen-SS (lit "Armed Protective Squadron") was the combat arm of the Schutzstaffel. Commanded by Heinrich Himmler who was ranked Reichsführer-SS (National Leader of the SS), the Waffen-SS saw action throughout the Second World War.

After humble beginnings as a protection unit for the NSDAP leadership, the Waffen-SS eventually grew into a huge force of thirty-eight combat divisions comprising over 950,000 men. In the Nuremburg Trials, the Waffen-SS was condemned as part of a criminal organisation, and therefore Waffen-SS veterans were denied many of the rights afforded other German combat veterans.

Early History - LSSAH - SS-VT

The original cadre of the Waffen-SS came from the Freikorps and the Heer along with various right-wing paramilitary formations. Formed at the instigation of Heinrich Himmler, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was the first formation of what was to become the Waffen-SS. When the SA was rendered powerless in the Night of the Long Knives, many ex-SA men requested transfer to the SS, swelling it's ranks and resulting in the formation of several new units including the SS-Verfügungstruppe (to become the SS Division Das Reich and the SS-Totenkopfverbände (to become the SS Division Totenkopf and also the concentration camp guard unit).

Waffen SS men were equipped with camoflague smocks and helmet covers, a new innovation which made them easily identifiable and provided them with an edge in combat. While they received the latest in uniforms, the majority of the SS men received second rate weapons and equipment, many formations receiving Czech and Austrian weapons and equipment. This policy continued throughout the war. Contrary to popular belief, the Waffen-SS did not receive the best equipment, and in fact many units were equipped with outdated or captured weapons, vehicles and tanks, with the majority of the best equipment going to the Heer's elite divisions and the Luftwaffe's Hermann Göring Division.

Trial by Fire

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TK1940_-_ZB30.jpg
A ZB-30 Machinegun Team of the Totenkopf in action, France 1940.

As the outbreak of war neared, Himmler ordered the formation of several combat formations from the SS-Standartes (units of regimental size). The resulting three formations (the LSSAH, SS-VT and SS-TV) took place in the Invasion of Poland as well as Fall Gelb. During the campaign in the West, both the Totenkopf and LSSAH were implicated in atrocities. The overall perfomance of the Waffen-SS had been mediocre during these campaigns.

The poor performance of the SS units is mainly due to the fact that a large emphasis in pre-war training was given to political indoctrination rather than proper military training. This was partly due to shortage of experienced NCOs, who preferred to stay with the regular army. Despite this, the experience gained from the Polish, French and Balkan campaigns and the perculiar egalitarian form of training soon turned Waffen-SS units into elite formations.

On several occasions, the Waffen-SS was criticised by Heer commanders for their reckless disregard for casualties while taking or holding objectives (See Totenkopf's actions during the early months of the Russian Campaign).

During the early stages of the War on the Eastern Front, the Waffen-SS divisions often proved themselves to a skeptical Heer as crack soldiers, though there were exceptions such as Kampfgruppe Nord's flight from the field in its first engagement in Karelia.

Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers of the 3rd SS-Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf during the
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Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers of the 3rd SS-Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf during the Battle of Kursk

The Waffen-SS truly proved their worth during the Third Battle Of Kharkov, where the II.SS-Panzerkorps under SS-Brigadeführer Paul Hausser recaptured the city and blunted the Soviet offensive, saving the forces of Erich von Manstein's Army Group South from being cut off and destroyed.

In Mid 1943, the II.SS-Panzzerkorps took part in Operation Citadel and the LSSAH, Das Reich and Totenkopf (all now Panzergrenadier divisions]] took part in the immense armour battles near Prokhorovka on the southern flank of the Kursk salient.

As the Waffen-SS Order of Battle expanded, several divisions were seen as being elite. These divisions were charachterised by extremely high unit morale and combat ability, as well as commitment to the Crusade against Bolshevism and the defense of the Fatherland.

The divisions are referred to as the classic SS divisions, and they include the LSSAH, Das Reich, Totenkopf, the multi-national Wiking, the Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg, and the Hitlerjugend. While several other formations (e.g. the Nordland and Nord divisions) could also be considered elite, they are generally not referred to as classic SS Divisions.

In spite of heavy casualties, many of the Waffen-SS units retained their reputations as crack formations until the end of the War, though the quality of formations raised late in the war was often execrable, and some of the Freiwillige troops were prone to mutiny (See 13.Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS Handschar (kroatische Nr.1)).

Foreign Volunteers

The Waffen-SS Order of Battle eventually included numerous units ranging in size from small detachments to entire corps. Originally, all Waffen-SS troops had to be German (including Austrian & Swiss) and of pure Aryan stock, but manning requirements soon made these criteria obsolete. In addition to the all-German units there were the SS Freiwilligenverbände (SS Volunteer UnitsTemplate:Ref) from countries and regions as diverse as Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia, Britain and British dominions (Britisches Freikorps), Bulgaria, Belarus, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France (SS Division Charlemagne), Finland (Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon), Georgia, Hungary, India, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, North Caucasus, Norway, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sudetenland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkistan and Ukraine.

Concept - Training

While it is difficult now to understand why anyone would volunteer for the Waffen-SS, during the War the organisation was marketed as a multinational force protecting Europe from the evils of Communism (see Voss, Johann - Black Edelweiss), and with training which emphasised unit cohesion and mutual respect between officers and men, rather than strict discipline. In the Waffen SS, it was not a requirement to salute officers and a more casual salute was adopted (the right arm raised vertically from the elbow - a relaxed version of the heil salute. This salute is portrayed in many war films). Added to this, the practice of addressing a superior as Herr (or Sir) was also forbidden, with everyone up to Himmler being addressed simply by their rank.

While many adventurers and idealists joined the SS as part of the fight against communism, many of the later recruits joined or were conscripted for different reasons. For example, Dutchmen who joined the 34.SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division Landstorm Nederland were granted exemption from forced labour and provided with food, pay and accomodation. Recruits who joined for such reasons rarely proved good soldiers, and several units composed of such volunteers were involved in atrocities.

Perhaps the most infamous of all SS formations were the Dirlewanger and Kaminski Brigades (later to become the 36.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS and 29.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (russische Nr.1) respectively. These formations, composed mostly of ex-Einsatzgruppen, released criminals and Russian Prisoners of War and commanded by the fantical Nazis Oskar Dirlewanger and Bronislaw Kaminski, were engaged in numerous atrocities throughout their existance. After their actions in putting down the Warsaw Uprising, Heer complaints resulted in these units being dissolved and several members (including Kaminski) being tried and executed for their role in several incidents.

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WaffenSS_police_ghetto.jpg
Waffen-SS soldiers of the Kaminski Brigade during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Divisions der SS

Beginning in 1942-43, several Waffen SS divisions were formed from ethnic groups seen as questionable by NSDAP doctrine. To sidestep this, Himmler authorised Waffen-SS units formed with men from these areas to be designated division der SS (or Division of the SS) rather than SS Division. All non-germanic officers and men in these units had their rank prefix changed from SS to Waffen (e.g. a Latvian Hauptscharführer would be referred to as a Waffen-Hauptscharführer rather than SS-Hauptscharführer). An example of a division der SS is the Estonian 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr.1). The combat ability of the divisions der SS varied greatly, with the Latvian, French and Estonian formations perfoming exceptionally and the Croatian and Albanian units perfoming poorly.

War Crimes and Atrocities

Waffen-SS troops have been accused of committing numerous war crimes, most notoriously at Oradour-sur-Glane, Marzabotto and in the Malmedy massacre. Some allegations have never been substantiated as many were intended to link the Waffen-SS to crimes committed by the Allgemeine-SS (political SS).

Template:SS Divisions

See also

References

External links

fr:Waffen SS he:ואפן אס אס it:Waffen-SS nl:Waffen-SS pl:Waffen-SS pt:Waffen SS sl:Waffen-SS fi:Waffen-SS sv:Waffen-SS ja:武装親衛隊

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