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"Development of the Waffen SS" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on the German Waffen SS was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 41, December 30, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The steady growth of the Waffen SS from its early beginnings shows to what extent its importance is recognized in the German Reich. For previous reference to this subject, see Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 35, p. 51.

The SS (Schutzstaffeln) or Elite Guard of the National Socialist Party grew out of a small bodyguard troop of hand-picked members of the S.A. (Sturmabteilungen) or Storm Troopers, organization of the National Socialist Party. The SS was officially founded in 1925 and its principal task was originally to protect Hitler and his associates during the stormy political meetings which were a continuous feature of the early years of the National Socialist or Nazi Party. In January, 1929 when the SS were 280 strong, Himmler was appointed Reichsführer SS. When Hitler became Führer and Reich Chancellor in January 1933 the SS membership had risen to 52,000 and by the outbreak of the war its strength had reached 250,000 to 300,000 men.

The SS is divided into the "General" SS (Allgemeine SS) and the permanently embodied and militarized SS (Waffen SS). While the Allgemeine SS has shrunk in size and importance, the Waffen SS has greatly expanded since the outbreak of the war. Comprising organizations of various types, including several armored division, the Waffen SS must now be regarded as a valuable and integral part of the German armed forces, equipped as well as, if not better than, the best equivalent units of the German Army.

a. Wartime Growth of the Waffen SS

Despite Hitler's promise to the military authorities, to keep his SS strictly a political organisation, all four militarized regiments of the SS took part in the invasion of Poland. During the winter of 1939 - 1940 three Waffen SS divisions were formed, namely the Verfuegungsdivision with Standarten (regiments) Deutschland, Germania, and Der Fuehrer, the SS Totenkopf Division, and the SS Polizei (police) Division. All three of these Waffen SS divisions and the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler took part in the campaign in the West. During the Winter 1940-41 the Verfuegungsdivision was split up, and two of its regiments - Der Fuehrer and Deutschland - became a new motorized division called Das Reich, which later played a leading part in the Balkan campaign. The Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler also took part in this campaign as a motorized division. Meanwhile, further expansion took place, and two new divisions were created: SS Division Wiking, consisting of the third Verfuegungs (Germania) regiment and two regiments composed of a mixed assortment of Danes, Norwegians, Flemings, Dutchmen and Germans; and the mountain division SS Nord. In 1942 two further divisions were formed: SS Cavalry Division (expansion of the SS Cavalry Brigade) and SS Mountain Division Prinz Eugen (recruited almost entirely from Germans - Volksdeutsche - in the Balkans). In the same year four of the original motorized divisions, Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Reich, Totenkopf and Wiking were reorganised as armored divisions and renamed Panzer Grenadier Division. This rate of expansion, which though involving small numbers of divisions, is high in proportion to the size of the Waffen SS, has shown no sign of decreasing. It is evident that in spite of Germany's shortage of manpower, a disproportionate effort is being made to expand the Waffen SS.

It is thought that there are now at least 18 SS divisions, including at least 10 armored and motorized, one cavalry, three mountain, and two or more infantry divisions. In addition, there are several SS infantry brigades and assault (Sturm) brigades. Several SS Corps HQ's have been set up to command SS (and other) formations.

b. Germanic and Foreign Elements in the Waffen SS

The organization of the "Germanic Corps" brings into prominence an important feature of the growth of the Waffen SS. Since 1940 assiduous attempts have been made to recruit SS legions from among the "Germanic" populations of Scandinavia, Western Europe and the Baltic States. This process of incorporating non-German elements in the Waffen SS has gone a stage further in 1943 by the recruitment of SS Division Galicia, SS Croatian Mountain Division, and Baltic and Walloon divisions or brigades. How this is reconciled with the original conception of the SS as the racial elite of Aryan Germany is difficult to see. But it is clear that a not inconsiderable part of the Waffen SS is beginning to take on the character of a polyglot-mercenary army. This in turn has an obvious bearing on the important question of the value of the Waffen SS as an instrument of internal security.

c. The Waffen SS as a Potential Instrument of Internal Security

The peculiar relationship between the Waffen SS and the National Socialist Party naturally leads to the assumption that, in the event of serious internal disorder within the Reich leading up to revolt against the supremacy of the Party, the regime will call upon its corps d'elite to suppress opposition and to maintain internal security. The mounting difficulties of the regime have thus been construed as the principal reason for the recent marked expansion of SS organisations. There can indeed probably be little doubt that to a large extent the existence of the Waffen SS was always regarded by the Party as an insurance against the future but the leaders realised at the very outbreak of the war that unless the SS shared the sacrifices and hardships of battle, discredit would accrue both to the force and to the Party. It was, in addition, evident that the SS would be the better qualified for its possible ultimate tasks for having had first-hand battle experience. Thus each successive campaign has seen an increasing participation by SS units in front-line fighting. The results have probably not been entirely what was intended. The very severe experiences of the Russian war in particular have in many cases overcome initial prejudices and may nave evoked a certain sympathy of arms between the SS and the Wehrmacht.

d. Conclusion

The Waffen SS on the whole presents the picture of an institution which is still developing. The exact lines of development, however, are decided not only by its origins but also by present circumstances, and it would be unwise to read into the condition of the Waffen SS today, a mere repetition of all the early characteristics of the SS movement. What is beyond speculation is the continued expansion of the Waffen SS by every means consistent with its character - true as far as Germany proper is concerned - of a voluntary body. Whether this accretion of numbers represents in every case an access to strength for Hitler, Himmler and the Party organisation is less certain.


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