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The Waffen-SS and the German Army

While tactically subordinate to the Army, the Waffen SS had their own command and control channels and effectively answered to Himmler. The relationship between the Waffen-SS and the German Army was one of rivalry. Weingarten notes that it started with the formation of the SS VT as an armed force. Hitler with Himmler, as leader of the SS, and Field Marshal von Blomberg, Germany's defense minister, reached an agreement formalizing the military status of the SS. The SS VT was to act as an instrument for the preservation of internal order, although possible use on the battlefield was also foreseen. Von Blomberg offered the SS a quantity of arms adequate to outfit one unit of division size. The responsibility for the employment of the SS VT was reserved for the Defense Ministry. This was a substantial concession to the German Army, but it became irrelevant when in February 1938 the Defense Ministry was eliminated and taken over by the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or High Command of the Armed Forces) under direct command of Hitler.

The German Army administered over the flow of recruits to the SS VT and provided it with trainings directives. Instead of the previous disorganized training programs for SS officers, formal officer academies, the so-called Junkerschulen (Schools for officer cadets), were founded, first in Bad Tölz and later in Braunschweig (Brunswick). In the period just prior to the outbreak of World War II little was heard of major problems between the army and the Waffen-SS. Indeed in June 1939, General von Brauchitsch, the army's new commander, ordered that it should seek to develop "a mutual relationship" of trust and comradeship . . . which is the prerequisite for "partnership in battle" and that local SS units should be invited to take part in training periods, courses, sporting events and social occasions run by the army.

Wegner, on the other hand, emphasizes in his book The Waffen-SS the friction between the Waffen-SS and the German Army. The friction was not only centered on fundamental aspects, such as the function of the militarized units and the status of SS Junkerschulen, but also on other levels, such as spying by SS members on army units and the recruitment by the Waffen-SS from army units. However, Wegner also states that from the summer of 1938 the use of the Waffen-SS units in combat was taken for granted by OKW. The demarcation line between the Waffen-SS and the German Army shifted noticeably in the former's favor.

There were significant differences between the Waffen-SS and the German Army. Unlike the German Army, it was not possible to enter the leadership cadres of the Waffen-SS with only a diploma from a secondary school. The Waffen-SS selected their potential officers at the very earliest after twelve months service with the recommendation of the unit commander and after a previous selection test. This policy changed by the end of 1940, because the Waffen-SS desperately needed new officers for its combat units. They now accepted graduates from secondary school, who were tested for officer suitability, the so-called SS Führerbewerber (SS officer-candidate), even though Himmler constantly stressed that the cadres of the Waffen-SS were still open for all men.

The army officers were in general much better educated; they had at least graduated from the secondary school. Williamson states that although the SS had much higher physical requirements for officer selection than the German Army, its educational requirements were much lower. Williamson explains that this lower education tended to make SS officers far more adaptable to tough discipline and ideological indoctrination (1994, 36). Wegner reports that only the general officers of the Waffen-SS, who came from the armed services, had enjoyed a regular officer career. The group of field grade officers, from SS Sturmbannführer (major) up to SS Standartenführer (colonel), was dominated by former non-commissioned officers from the army, who were excluded from an officer career largely because of the lack of educational prerequisites. The main consequence, in Wegner's point of view, was that the numerous noncommissioned officers changed the style of leadership of the Waffen-SS into a more practical method of leading.

There were other differences between the Waffen-SS and the German Army. Most SS troops came from rural background, and Waffen-SS officers in comparison with army officers lacked the Prussian tradition and the class consciousness. But from 45 to 50 percent of the Waffen-SS officers came from middle class families and this percentage did not differ from army officers. This relatively high percentage derived from the social changes of a class conscious populace: Repeated changes of social status mainly affected persons with a (upper) middle class background. They were the least certain of being able to maintain their social status. . . . This socially unstable group of persons, extremely susceptible to class fluctuations, frequently managed to secure "definitively" their class position only by making a career in the SS.

In the 1930s the relationship between the German Army and the Waffen-SS was even tenuous. The soldiers of the German Army considered themselves as the best soldiers and looked down on SS troops. The soldiers of the SS VT were only amateurs; the soldiers of the SS Totenkopf, the concentration camp guards, were sadist, and the soldiers of the Leibstandarte were "asphalt soldiers," who looked great on parade ground, but were incapable fighters. After the first German campaigns in Poland and Western Europe, most army officers admired the courage and recklessness with which Waffen-SS units fought, but they felt that overall most SS troops suffered from a combination of recklessness and lack of training.

The relationship between the German Army and the Waffen-SS reached the rock bottom during the German operations in Yugoslavia in 1941 when SS troops threatened to open fire on army columns. Army and Waffen-SS units were even competing to capture the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, first. The turning point came during the German campaign in the Soviet Union when the Waffen-SS earned its reputation for bravery and steadfastness. No longer did the German Army look down on SS troops, as their élan and courage propelled many German advances and stopped many Soviet attacks. In 1944 when the SS units were still winning tactical victories on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, many army units even admired the Waffen-SS units, which were constantly rushing over the front, plugging gaps in the line, rescuing encircled troops, and mounting ferocious counterattacks.

At that time Hitler himself influenced the relation between the German Army and the Waffen-SS relation by assigning some Waffen-SS generals, such as Hausser and Dietrich, to command an Army Group. However, no high-ranking SS officer ever served as a permanent member of the OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres or High Command of the German Army). The Waffen-SS, since the beginning of the war, had a reputation for suffering over-proportionally heavy losses in combat. After 1945 this generalization was rather uncritically used to prove the special steadfastness and bravery of SS troops. The losses were interpreted as evidence of failing SS leadership and ideological motivated misanthropy. However, the number of those killed in action, both in the Waffen-SS and the German Army, correspond exactly to the ratio of their total strengths. The casualties among noncommissioned officers and enlisted men in the German Army and in the Waffen-SS were equivalent, but the casualty rate for officers was different. The deaths among SS officers were almost double that of officers in all combat units.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:41 ZULU