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The Waffen-SS was the operational military wing of the Schutzstaffel. Its roots lay with various German paramilitary organizations that formed the Freikorps and those of the Nazi party, such as the SA, and that were later absorbed into the SS-Verfügungstruppe and Hitler's personal guard, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH), the direct predecessors of the Waffen-SS. Its main task was to implement the political will of Hitler with force and to work with the regular German Army in combat operations.

The Waffen-SS Order of Battle eventually included numerous units ranging in size from small detachments to entire corps. Originally, all Waffen-SS troops had to be German (including Austrian & Swiss) and of pure Aryan stock, but manning requirements soon made these criteria obsolete. In addition to the all-German units there were the SS Freiwilligenverbände (SS Volunteer¹ Units) from countries and regions as diverse as Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia, Britain and British dominions (Britisches Freikorps), Bulgaria, Belarus, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France (SS Division Charlemagne), Finland (Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon ), Georgia, Hungary, India, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, North Caucasus, Norway, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sudetenland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tibet, Turkistan and Ukraine.

Examples of SS units are the SS Division Nordland, formed from Norwegian, Danish and Baltic volunteers; an SS Division Hitlerjugend (enlisted ranks were volunteers from the Hitlerjugend); and an SS Division Totenkopf originally formed from excess concentration camp guards, though most of these had been killed by 1942 after being encircled in the Valdai Hills on the Russian Front, and were replaced by ordinary volunteers not associated with the concentration camps.

During the early stages of the War on the Eastern Front, the Waffen-SS divisions often proved themselves to a skeptical Heer as crack soldiers, though there were exceptions such as Kampfgruppe Nord's flight from the field in its first engagement. In spite of heavy casualties many of the Waffen-SS units retained their reputations as crack formations until the end of the War, though the quality of formations raised late in the war was often execrable, and some of the Freiwillige troops were prone to mutiny. However, the élite formations were characterized by extremely high unit morale and commitment to the German Reich, sometimes drawing criticism from the Heer for their reckless disregard for casualties while taking or holding objectives. Their units received highest priority for new or replacement equipment and could cherry-pick the best soldiers. Many good soldiers volunteered for the Waffen SS because of its prestigious reputation.

This practice continued through most of the war, but in the end, from 1944 onwards facing manpower shortages, Waffen-SS units received conscript replacements drawn from disbanded Luftwaffe or Navy units or labour battalions. While these were conscripts and often lacked any infantry training before being thrown into combat, some SS units exhibited very high morale and comradeship until the very end of the war.

Units of the Waffen-SS played prominent roles in the Third Battle of Kharkov, the Battle of Kursk, the Battle of the Bulge, and the 1945 offensive near Lake Balaton in Hungary.

Waffen-SS troops have been accused of committing numerous war crimes, most notoriously at Oradour-sur-Glane, Marzabotto and in the Malmedy massacre. Some allegations have never been substantiated as many were intended to link the Waffen-SS to crimes committed by the SS-Verfügungstruppe (political SS).


  1. In addition to recruiting genuine volunteers for service in the Waffen-SS, Germany also drafted conscripts from occupied territories in Eastern Europe, making the term Freiwilligenverbände a ridiculed misnomer among the latter groups.

See also


  • Munoz, Antonio J. (1991). Forgotten Legions: Obscure Combat Formations of the Waffen-SS. Axis Europa, Inc.. ISBN 0739408178.
  • Quarrie, Bruce (1983). Hitler's Samurai: The Waffen-SS in Action. Arco Pub. 161 pp.. ISBN 0668058056.
  • Williamson, Gordon (1995). Loyalty is my Honor. Motorbooks International. 192 pp.. ISBN 0760300127.

External links

Last updated: 05-08-2005 04:28:16