World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Unknown Sources

In 1933, the Schutzstaffel organized a full-time armed branch called the SS-Verfügungstruppen (SS-VT).  These units were placed at Hitler's disposal, and were intended to be special purpose troops for such duties as putting down counterrevolutions and strikes, conduct purges, and quell riots.  By 1939, the size of the SS-VT expanded to four regiments (Standarten), due to the usefullness of having combat units outside the control of the German military.  These soldiers were carefully selected, and the requirements to join were very strict.

The role of the SS-VT was eventually expanded.  Himmler desired to have a military force that rivalled that of the German Army, and equipped these troops with the most modern weapons and vehicles.  The training was considered tougher than that of the Army's, since Waffen-SS training involved the use of live ammunition. When the Germans annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, there were SS-VT troops right along side those of the Army.  Before the invasion of Poland, the SS-VT was given extensive military training in the tactics of warfare, and formed into units similar to those of the Army.  These troops were exposed to combat, giving the SS-VT a root cadre of experienced soldiers to build upon.  After the Polish campaign, three SS-VT regiments who had seen combat were expanded into Brigades, and later Divisions (the Standarte Der Führer did not participate in Poland since they were stationed at the West Wall, and was completing training).

The Waffen-SS continued to expand their numbers, but competed for recruits with all the other military services.  The strict requirements for membership decreased the pool of potential recruits even further.  In an attempt to bolster their numbers, the Waffen-SS began recruiting for non-german, "nordic" peoples who lived outside the German border. This gave the Waffen-SS an advantage over the army, who were prevented by law from recruiting from conquered territories.  The Standarte Nordland and the Standarte Westland were formed and combined with the Standarte Germania, forming the Wiking Division.

By 1943, the strict recruiting requirements of the Waffen-SS were too cumbersome.  With the mounting losses in the war, the reduced number of potential recruits, and escalation of the war onto multiple fronts, the Waffen-SS was forced to lower the requirements necessary to join.  This permitted the Waffen-SS  to muster 31 Divisions, of which consist of 7 Panzer Divisions by 1945.  However, about a third of these Divisions were classified as "non-Germanic," (composed primarily of non-Germanic personnel), and rarely had enough soldiers to deserve the classification of "Division".  At the end of the war, ethnic germans, or volkdeutsch, actually outnumbered Germans in the Waffen-SS.  The 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Nordland" , composed of both germansand non-germans, fought to the bitter end in Berlin, defending the Reichschancellory and the Führerbunker.

Evolution of the Waffen-SS units

The Verfüngungstruppen took part in the occupation of both Austria and Czechoslovakia along with those of the Wehrmacht. Following these occupations, the Verfüngungstruppen were given formal military training in anticipation of the war. They were formed into regular military units and participated in the invasion of Poland. These units were eventually expanded into brigades and eventually division size elements.

he military branch of the SS at this time was first known as the Bewaffnete SS, and later Waffen-SS. The unit Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler became the SS Division of the same name, while the unit Deutschland and Der Führer became the Verfüngungs Division, with the unit Langemarck eventually being added. With this addition, they were renamed the division Das Reich. Units of the Totenkopf were formed into the Totenkopf Division. These were the Waffen-SS's first three divisions, and would play significant roles throughout World War II.

With the intensification of the war, the Waffen-SS began to recruit outside of Germany. In 1940, the Standarte Nordland and Standarte Westland were created to begin placement of these foreign recruits within the SS military structure. Eventually, these two units were combined with the Standarte Germanic to comprise the Wiking Division. Based on this practice of forming units from foreign recruits, the Waffen-SS created native "Legions" in occupied countries. Eventually, these units were enlarged (some in name only) into brigades and divisions.

Units containing a high percentage of "racial" Germans and "Germanic" volunteers were designated as "Freiwilligen" within their names, e.g. 11. SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier Division "Nordland". Those units that contained a high percentage of non-Germanic personnel carried the designation "Waffen-" within their names, e.g. 15. Waffen-Grenadier-Division-SS (lett. Nr. 1).

Officers of "non-Germanic" origin could not become full members of the SS officer corps, but were instead designated as Waffen-Führer der SS, and their individual rank reflected this as well, e.g. Waffen-Untersturmführer.

The origins of the Waffen-SS can be traced back to the selection of a group of 120 SS men in March 1933 by Josef "Sepp" Dietrich to form the Sonderkommando Berlin. By November 1933 the formation was 800 men strong, and at a remembrance ceremony in Munich for the tenth anniversary of the failed Munich Putsch the regiment swore allegiance to Hitler. The oath given: Pledging loyalty to him alone and Obedience unto death. The formation was given the title Leibstandarte (Bodyguard Regiment) Adolf Hitler (LAH). On 13 April 1934, by order of Himmler, the regiment became known as the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH).

The Leibstandarte demonstrated their loyalty in June 1934 during the Night of the Long Knives, the purge of the Sturmabteilung (SA). The SA had over two million members at the end of 1933. Led by one of Hitler's old comrades, Ernst Röhm, the SA represented a threat to Hitler's relationship with the German Army and threatened to sour his relations with the conservatives of the country; people whose support Hitler needed to solidify his position in the German government. Hitler decided to act against the SA. The SS was put in charge of eliminating Röhm and the other high-ranking officers of the SA.

The Night of the Long Knives between 30 June and 2 July 1934 saw the killing of approximately 82 SA men, including almost its entire leadership, effectively ending the power of the SA. This action was largely carried out by the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. In September 1934, Adolf Hitler authorized the formation of the military wing of the Nazi Party and approved the formation of the SS-Verfügungstruppe or SS-VT, special service troop under Hitler's command. The SS-VT had to depend on the German Army for its supply of weapons and military training and they had control of the recruiting system, through local draft boards responsible for assigning conscripts to the different branches of the Wehrmacht, to meet quotas set by the German High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW in German). The SS was given the lowest priority for recruits.

Even with the difficulties of the quota system Heinrich Himmler formed two new SS regiments, the SS Germania and SS Deutschland, which together with the Leibstandarte and a communications unit made up the SS-VT. At the same time Himmler established the SS-Junkerschule Bad Tölz and SS-Junkerschule Braunschweig for training the officers required to lead the new regiments. Both schools used the regular army training methods and used former Army officers to train their potential officers to be combat effective. The officer candidates had to meet stringent requirements before being allowed entry to the schools: all SS officers had to be a minimum height of 5 foot 10 inches – 5 foot 11 inches for the Leibstandarte and they also had to have served some time in the ranks.

Members of the SS could be of any religion but atheists were not allowed. In 1937, Himmler wrote in a letter to a pastor that an SS man's religious denomination was his own personal choice. Himmler wrote, "Atheism is the only world-view or religious view that is not tolerated within the SS." Himmler resented the fact that Christianity or the Christian churches could forbid SS men from having any leadership role in the church. The Nazis considered Jewishness to be a race, not a religion, so Himmler didn't consider it.

In 1936, Himmler selected former Lieutenant General Paul Hausser to be Inspector of the SS-VT with the rank of Brigadefuhrer, and he set about transforming the SS-VT into a credible military force that was a match for the regular army.

On 17 August 1938, Hitler declared that the SS-VT would have a role in domestic as well as foreign affairs, which transformed this growing armed force into the rival that the army had feared. He decreed that service in the SS-VT would qualify to fulfill military obligations, although service in the SS-Totenkopfverbände or SS-TV would not. Some units of the SS-TV would, in the case of war, be used a reserves for the SS-VT, which did not have its own reserves. For all its training, the SS-VT had been unable to test itself in a combat situation. This changed in 1938, when two opportunities arose with the Anschluss of Austria in March and the occupation of the Sudetenland in October. A battalion of the Leibstandarte was chosen to accompany the Army troops in occupying Austria, and the three regiments of the SS-VT participated in the occupation of the Sudetenland. In both actions no resistance was met.

The Ardennes Offensive or "Battle of the Bulge" between 16 December 1944 and 25 January 1945 was a major German offensive through the forested Ardennes Mountains region of Belgium. The Waffen-SS units included the Sixth SS Panzer Army, under Sepp Dietrich. Created on 26 October 1944, it incorporated the I SS Panzer Corps (1 SS Leibstandarte, the 12 SS Hitlerjugend and the SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101). It also had the II SS Panzer Corps (2 SS Das Reich and the 9 SS Hohenstaufen). Another unit involved was Otto Skorzeny's SS Panzer Brigade 150.

The purpose of the attack was to split the British and American line in half, capture Antwerp, Belgium, and encircle and destroy four Allied armies, forcing the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty on terms favorable to the Axis Powers.

The attack was ultimately a failure. It is infamous for the Malmedy massacre in which approximately 90 unarmed American prisoners of war were murdered on 17 December 1944 by the Kampfgruppe Peiper, part of the 1 SS Leibstandarte.

Warsaw Uprising
At the other end of Europe, the Waffen-SS was dealing with the Warsaw Uprising. Between August and October 1944, the Dirlewanger Brigade (recruited from criminals and the mentally ill throughout Germany) and the Waffen-Sturm-Brigade RONA were sent to Warsaw with the explicit goal of putting down the uprising. During the battle, the Dirlewanger behaved atrociously, raping, looting and killing citizens of Warsaw regardless of whether they belonged to the Polish resistance or not; the unit commander SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger himself encouraged their excesses. The unit's behavior was reportedly so bestial and indiscriminate that Himmler was forced to send a battalion of SS military police for the sole purpose of ensuring the Dirlewanger convicts did not turn their aggressions against the leadership of the brigade, or other nearby German units. At the same time they were encouraged by Himmler to terrorize freely, take no prisoners, and generally indulge their perverse tendencies. Favoured tactics of the Dirlewanger men during the siege reportedly included the ubiquitous gang rape of female Poles, both women and children; playing "bayonet catch" with live babies; and torturing captives to death by hacking off their arms, dousing them with gasoline, and setting them alight to run armless and flaming down the street.
The Dirlewanger brigade committed almost non-stop atrocities during this period, in particular the four-day Wola massacre. The other unit Waffen-Sturm-Brigade RONA (made up of ethnic German volunteers from the occupied regions of the Soviet Union) was tasked with clearing the Ochota district in Warsaw that was defended by members of the Polish Underground Home Army. Their attack was planned for the morning of August 5, but when the time came, the RONA unit could not be found; after some searching by the SS military police, members of the unit were found looting abandoned houses in the rear of the German column. Later, thousands of Polish civilians were killed by the RONA SS men during the events known as Ochota massacre; many victims were also raped.
In following weeks, the RONA unit was moved south to the Wola district, but it fared no better in combat there than it did in Ochota; in one incident a sub-unit of the RONA brigade advanced to loot a captured building on the front line, but was subsequently cut off from the rest of the SS formation and wiped out by the Poles. Following the fiasco, SS-Brigadeführer Bronislav Vladislavovich Kaminski the unit's commander was called to Łódź to attend a SS leadership conference. He never reached it; official Nazi sources blamed the Polish partisans for an alleged ambush that killed the RONA commander. But, according to various other sources he was arrested and tried by the SS, or simply shot on the spot by the Gestapo. The behaviour of the RONA during the battle was an embarrassment even to the SS, and the alleged rape and murder of two German Strength Through Joy (Kdf) girls may have played a part in the eventual execution of the brigade's commander.
Photo from the Stroop report prepared for Jurgen Stroop
War Crimes
The separately organised Allgemeine SS was responsible for the administration of death camps, although many members of it and the SS-Totenkopfverbände subsequently became members of the Waffen-SS, forming the initial core of the Totenkopf Division. Many Waffen-SS members and units were responsible for war crimes against civilians and allied servicemen. For members who did not directly take part in them, they had to face the fact there was a "guilt by association" that attached. After the war the Schutzstaffel organisation as a whole was held to be a criminal organization by the post-war German government, due to evidence that it was responsible for war crimes. Formations such as the Dirlewanger and Kaminski Brigades were singled out, and many others were involved in large-scale massacres or smaller-scale killings such as the Houtman affair or murders perpetrated by Heinrich Boere. The most infamous incidents include the following:
    •    Wormhoudt massacre by SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 1940, Belgium
    •    Le Paradis massacre by SS Division Totenkopf, 1940, France
    •    Oradour-sur-Glane massacre by SS Division Das Reich, 1944, France
    •    Ochota massacre by SS Kaminski Brigade, 1944, Poland
    •    Wola massacre by SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger, 1944 Poland
    •    Huta Pieniacka massacre by SS-Galizien division 1944, Poland
    •    Tulle massacre by SS Das Reich, 1944, France
    •    Marzabotto massacre by 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS, 1944, Italy
    •    Malmedy massacre by Kampfgruppe Peiper part of 1st SS Panzer Division, 1944, Belgium
    •    Ardeatine massacre by two SS Officers, 1944, Italy
    •    Distomo massacre by 4th SS Polizei Division, 1944, Greece
    •    Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre by 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS, 1944, Italy
    •    Ardenne Abbey massacre 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, 1944, France

The linking of the SS-VT with the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) in 1938 posed important questions about Waffen-SS criminality, since the SS-TV were already responsible for imprisonment, torture and murder of Jews (and other political opponents) through providing the personnel for manning of the Concentration Camps. Their leader, Theodor Eicke, who was the commandant of the Dachau concentration camp, inspector of the camps and murderer of Ernst Röhm, later became the commander of the 3 SS Totenkopf Division.

With the invasion of Poland, the Totenkopfverbände troops were called on to carry out "police and security measures" in rear areas. What these measures involved is demonstrated by the record of SS Totenkopf Standarte Brandenburg. It arrived in Włocławek on 22 September 1939 and embarked on a four day "Jewish action" that included the burning of synagogues and the execution en masse of the leaders of the Jewish community. On 29 September the Standarte travelled to Bydgoszcz to conduct an "intelligentsia action". Approximately 800 Polish civilians and what the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) termed "potential resistance leaders" were killed. The Totenkopfverbände was to become one of the elite SS divisions, but from the start they were among the first executors of a policy of systematic extermination.

Several formations within the Waffen-SS were found guilty of a war crime, especially in the opening and closing phases of the war. In addition to documented atrocities, Waffen-SS units assisted in rounding up Eastern European Jews for deportation and utilised Scorched-earth tactics during anti-partisan operations. Some Waffen-SS personnel convalesced at concentration camps, from which they were drawn, by serving guard duties. Other members of the Waffen-SS were more directly involved in genocide.

The end of the war saw a number of war crime trials, including the Malmedy massacre trial. The counts of indictment related to the massacre of more than 300 American prisoners "in the vicinity of Malmedy, Honsfeld, Büllingen, Ligneuville, Stoumont, La Gleize, Cheneux, Petit Thier, Trois Ponts, Stavelot, Wanne and Lutrebois", between 16 December 1944 and 13 January 1945, and the massacre of 100 Belgian civilians mainly in the vicinity of Stavelot.

During the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was declared a criminal organisation, except conscripts from 1943 onward, who were exempted from that judgement as they had been forced to join.