The Waffen-SS – Hitler’s Elite Army
There were basically three sections of the SS, a protection squadron, controlled by Heinrich Himmler; The Sicherheitsolienst or SD, the Geheime or Gestapo and the Military Sector or Waffen SS.
The Military sector of the SS went through a variety of name changes; first SS-Stabsuache Berlin, then changed to SS-SonderKommando Berlin, next Leibstandarte SS Adolph Hiter, before becoming the Waffen SS. The first select 120 recruits in 1930 passed the strictest of qualifications:
- Only Aryan (non-Jewish) heritage
- Proven Reliability
- Obedient to Hitler himself
- Minimum 5 feet 11 inches
- Good physical condition
- Good health
They had a membership of 2,000 men by 1935 which played a key role in the invasion of Poland which led Germany into World War II. The Waffen SS were mainly on the Eastern front during the early years of the war, 1941-1944, but were fighting in the Battle of Berlin, when Germany fell, as well as the entire SS organization.
The Waffen SS was a complete, separate and additional Army of Germany that fought along with the regular German Army – The Wehrmacht. Increasing in numbers and structures, by 1941 there were six major divisions and three brigades:
- Reich – The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich, an elite division involved in the invasion of France, fought on the eastern front, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge and tried after the war for the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre.
- Totenkopf – The SS Panzergrenadier Division mostly consisted of concentration, death and labor camp guards.
- Polizei – The uniformed national police division was brought into the Waffen SS in 1942 and called the 4th SS-Polizei-Panzergrenadier and served mostly in France, Russia and Greece.
- Wiking – The division of foreign volunteers from Denmark, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Netherlands and Belgium that served on the eastern front.
- Kampfgruppe Nord – The 6th SS Mountain division that were the only ones that fought in the Arctic Circle and then became part of the western Army.
- Leibstandarte – Hitler’s bodyguard division called “Liebstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” (LSSAH) that murdered at least 5,000 POWs during WWII from 1940 to 1945.
- 1st SS Infantry – Heavily involved in genocide and the extermination of Jews.
- 2nd SS Infantry – Fought in the flank areas of the North Army groups.
- SS Cavalry – Fought in the German occupations of both Poland and the Soviet Union, and were also involved with genocide and anti-partisan activities.
Adolf Hitler had hopes for the Waffen SS to be his elite police force once the war was over and Germany had been victorious. He intended for it to be separate and apart from the military, although they fought simultaneously during the entire war.
The major commanders of the Waffen SS, and their highest rank:
- Josef “Sepp” Dietrich – Commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army
- Paul Hausser – Commander of the 11th Panzer corps, 7th Army
- Theodor Eicke – First Commander of Dachau Concentration Camp, killed in action in 1943
- Felix Steiner – Commander of the SS division Wiking, and 3rd SS Panzer Corps in Germany
- Kurt Meyer – Division Commander of the 12th SS Panzer Hitlerjugend
Total war casualties of the Waffen SS are estimated between 180,000 and 300,000 killed, 400,000 wounded and 40,000 missing. The Waffen SS was tried as a criminal organization guilty of war crimes at the Trial of Nuremberg after the war ended. Those who were members before 1943 were found guilty as tried but those members who joined after 1943 were considered to have been forced and exempt.
Even though some Waffen SS members were considered exempt from war crimes, veterans of the Waffen SS were denied any of the same rights and benefits of veterans of Germany’s official military organizations: Heer (Army), Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy).