In December 1940, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS (Schutz Staffeln), established the Waffen-SS. This new army grew rapidly and within six months grew to over 150,000 men. By October 1944, the Waffen-SS had grown to over 600,000 men. The Waffen-SS, which is translated as "Armed-SS," was the military wing of the blackuniformed SS (Schutz Staffeln, or Defense Squads) and became the equivalent of regulararmy divisions.
Its conceptual origins lay in the "political ready reserves" in the earlydays of the Nazi movement. These reserves were the fanatical Nazis who would protectthe party leaders and ruthlessly attack all enemies during the political chaos of Germanyin the 1920's and 1930's. It is important to distinguish that serving in the Waffen-SS (a military organization with foreign troops and conscription) was not the same as membership in the SS (a Nazi political organization and executive arm for racial Germans), although the two concepts are confused. The Waffen-SS was expected to be a military organization absolutely and perfectly obedient and loyal to its master, Adolf Hitler, and even thoughthere is no indication that the Waffen-SS were going to replace the entire army after the assassination attempt on Hitler, the goal was to reconstruct the entire army command on the basis of the SS leadership after the war.
The purpose of the Waffen-SS was political violence. Political violence during elections was both commonplace and bloody in Germany between the wars. In the early days of Hitler's National Social German Workers Party, better known as Nazi Party, it was not unusual for party meetings to deteriorate into riots and fights with opponents from the political left. Many of these fights became extremely violent.
The first war experience of the Waffen-SS units came in 1939 during the invasion in Poland. Altogether some 18,000 Waffen-SS soldiers participated in this campaign. Gerald Reitlinger mentions in his book The SS, Alibi of a Nation that immediately after the cease-fire in Poland the greater part of the SS troops were withdrawn to be reformed into divisions. The former SS Oberstgruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS (four-star general) Paul Hausser described in his book Wenn alle Brüder schweigen (When all our brother were silent) these divisions saw action in Western Europe, the Balkans, Greece, Finland, the Soviet Union, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, Austria, Hungary, as well as in the last phase of the war in Germany itself.
Himmler repeatedly, and with pride, spoke of Waffen-SS company and battalion commanders seldom leading their units for more than three or four months because of death, wounding, promotion, or transfer. This rapid rotation in command led to a swift rejuvenation of troop commanders in comparison to the army. At the end of the war the average age of SS regimental commanders was around thirty-two and that of battalion commander around thirty.
Waffen-SS soldiers were not just soldiers and mentioned two features, which had an impact on the climate of the Waffen-SS: the ideological foundation during the training and selection methods for leadership, and the incorporation of a mythical Nordic heritage and German history. These factors ensured that the Waffen-SS had a superior esprit de corps and a stronger appeal than German Army units. Unit names, such as "Hohenstauffen" and "Totenkopf" echoed the glorious past of the "Life Guards of the Bavarian King" and the "Death Head's Hussars of Frederic the Great".
The SS VT was initially formed in March 1935 from the SS Politische Bereitschaften (SS political willingness squads). After 1938, other SS units were also formed from men of German blood residing outside the German Reich, the so-called Volksdeutscher. Volunteers from the 'Nordic' countries and other Western European occupied countries followed them. Later, when the standards for SS membership were reduced due to the demands of war, whole SS divisions were formed from what the Nazis believed to be inferior races, such as the Ukrainians.
After the formation of the Waffen SS in 1940 there was a gradually increasing number of conscripts into the Waffen SS. It appears that about a third of the total n~zmber of people joining the Waffen SS were conscripts, that the proportion of conscripts was higher at the end of the mar than at the beginning, but that there continued to be a high proportion of volunteers until the end of the war.
The Waffen-SS recruited many foreign volunteers into its ranks. After the May 1940 "Victory in the West," the SS began an active program to obtain Western European recruits for several new Waffen-SS volunteer legions. This effort intensified after June 1941, as the SSasked volunteers to join the "anti-Bolshevik" campaign in the Soviet Union and over 125,000 West Europeans volunteered for the Waffen-SS. The great irony and contradiction for the Waffen-SS was that the military force created as the ultimate racial elite, during the last days of the war, recruited large numbers of non-German, volunteers from northern, western and eastern Europe, because the racial standards were increasingly ignored as the German war fortunes declined and the Waffen-SS was in desperate need of manpower.
At the end of World War II no less than thirty-eight Waffen-SS divisions appeared in the German Order of Battle. Fourteen of these units were only of regimental or reinforced battalion strength and others were decimated. In total the field troops of the Waffen-SS grew from 124,200 soldiers in May 1940 to 160,400 soldiers in June 1941. In 1942 this number fell to 156,400 soldiers, but a year later, in December 1943, it was up to over 257,500 men. In June 1944, the Waffen-SS strength rose to 368,700 men and comprised in December 1944 almost a million soldiers. The website on the Waffen-SS Order of the Battle (WSSOB) concludes that this last number is inflated by the inclusion of non-Waffen-SS units such as XV SS Kosaken Kavallerie Korps (15th SS Cossack Cavalry Corps).
In 1940 the Waffen SS comprised 100,000 men, 56,000 coming from the Verfuengungstruppe and the rest from the Allgemeine SS and the Totenkopf Verbaende. At the end of the war it is estimated to have consisted of about 580,000 men and 40 divisions. The W-affen SS was under the tactical comnand of the army, but was equipped and supplied through the administrative branches of the SS and under SS disciplinary control. Hess wrote with truth that the Waffen SS were more suitable for the specific tasks to be solved in occupied territory owing to their extensive training in questions of race and nationality. Himmler, in a series of speeches made in 1943, indicated his pride in the ability of the SS to carry out these criminal acts. He encouraged his men to be "tough and ruthless," he spoke of shooting "thousands of leading Poles," and thanked them for their cooperation and lack of squeamish- ness at the sight of hundreds and thousands of corpses of their victims. He extolled ruthlessness in exterminating the Jewish race and later described this process as "delousing."
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