Waffen SS

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According to its commander, Oberstgruppenfuehrer Paul Hausser, the Waffen SS (armed SS) was created in the fall of 1939. Its initial strength was three divisions, drawn from the Verfuegungstruppe, Totenkopf SS, and from men who had been trained for the Police.

It grew to over 35 divisions, as well as corps formation, due to an unplanned factor: all racially Germanic volunteers, who were not German citizens, served in the Waffen SS. Its eventual strength was approximately 900,000 men, of whom only half to one third came from the German Reich itself. [1]

Direction

The Waffen SS was under an administrative, but not operational, office in Berlin, which reported to Heinrich Himmler. All operational matters were under the direction of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. Himmler's authority, with respect to the Waffen SS, was limited to "matters dealing with personnel and replacements, with judicial questions and fundamental problems of organization."

Subordinate commanders

With the exception of Hausser, no Waffen SS officer had been a regular army general. Hausser competently commanded an army group. Felix Steiner and Sepp Dietrich commanded army-sized formation, Steiner well given extreme resource constraints in the Battle of Berlin, and Dietrich less so with the 6th Panzer Army in the Battle of the Bulge.[2] While Dietrich was a friend of Hitler and active in the Night of the Long Knives, he showed some independence, refusing orders he considered suicidal for his troops, and protesting orders to shoot Jews.

The Waffen SS simply did not have enough service time to train top-level commanders.

At the corps level, SS leaders ranged in quality. All of the competent ones had Freikorps service, and usually Truppenamt or other clandestine training during the Weimar Republic. They included George Bittrich, Herbert Gille and Georg Kepler. At the other extreme was Heinz Reinefart who had been an army sergeant, rose to full police general, but was disgraced while commanding a corps.

Some of the younger division commanders spent their entire careers in the Waffen SS.[3]

Conduct

Hauser denied the prosecution accusation that the Waffen SS used cruelty and terror, and carried out mass exterminations. He said he told Himmler, who once mentioned terrorist measures, that "was completely wrong, that we had not gained our successes through terror methods but only through the courage of officers and men who were ready to sacrifice themselves to the last man if necessity arose." Nevertheless, atrocities were associated with units such as the Das Reich Division, as at Oradour-sur-Glane, France.[4] Another incident was perpetrated by the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division at Malmedy, Belgium, under Dietrich.

References

  1. One hundredth and ninety-fifth day, Monday; 5 August 1946, morning session, vol. Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 20, Avalon Project, Yale Law School
  2. Hugh M. Cole (15 June 1964), Chapter XXIII, The Battle Between the Salm and the Ourthe, 24 December-2 January, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, U.S. Army, p. 578
  3. Gerald Reitlinger (1989), The SS, alibi of a nation, 1922-1945, Da Capo Press, pp. 84-85
  4. Michael Williams, Oradour-sur-Glane 10th June 1944