Waffen-SS. Waffen-Grenadier-Division "Charlemagne, " : Toronto Public Library
McGhee Introduction On September 1,1. Two German Army Groups consisting of 35 standard infantry divisions, four motorized infantry divisions, five panzer divisions, four light infantry divisions, and three mountain divisions were formed to attack Poland from three fronts. These formations, together not equaling an entire division, would receive their baptism of fire in Poland, overcome the harsh criticism of the German Army leadership, and emerge as an organization that would eventually grow into the "fourth branch of the Wehrmacht," the Waffen SS.
The SS formations were unique in that the Reich leadership did not originally consider them front line combat formations. As early asthe Reichsfuhrer SS, Heinrich Himmler described the mission of the SS, "The task of the SS is to guarantee the security of Germany from the interior, just as the Wehrmacht guarantees the safety of the honor, the greatness, and the peace of the Reich from the exterior.
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Assigned to larger army groups and serving under the command of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht OKWthe SS Regiments were assigned some difficult missions resulting in moderate casualties.
However, their accomplishments did not immediately earn them respect from Army leadership. Army commanders such as General Walther von Brauchitsch, the Wehrmacht Commander in Chief, commented that the Leibstandarte for example was, "untrained for battle and had no knowledge of strategy and had to pay the price for being policemen dressed up in army uniforms. By the time the campaign began, the Waffen SS strength had increased tomen under arms.
The Waffen SS formations were formed as elite organizations whose members saw themselves as more physically fit, motivated, and in general, better than their army counterparts. We had an arrogant pride in our selves, an immense esprit de corps. I always felt better than any Wehrmacht soldier. I wasn't, of course, but I felt that I was. Every young man who was accepted into the Waffen-SS, according to Heinze Kohne, a grenadier with the SS Leibstandarte"was very proud of this achievement.
In my muster group were some young men who were prepared to volunteer for this elite force, but only 28 were of a suitable caliber. Merely being accepted was already a great honor, because the selection procedure was so rigorous.
The relationship between officers and enlisted men in the Waffen SS differed greatly from the class separation found within the German Army. Expected to rise from the ranks, Waffen SS officers earned the respect and loyalty of their men by leading from the front and never asking them to do anything that they would not do themselves.
For many, this bond between brothers in arms was the most memorable aspect of serving as part of the Waffen SS. We were all just around 18 years old, and our officers just 20 to 30 years old. It was this spirit of equality which made us all feel so proud. Influential men such as Paul Hausser and Felix Steiner both served in the highly mobile, super-fit, and well-armed Stosstruppen shock troops during the First World War.
Many of the same tactics utilized by these formations were therefore adopted as part of a rigorous SS training program that emphasized sport, physical fitness, and above all, field craft. Acquiring the necessary equipment proved to be a formidable challenge for Waffen SS organizations during this time period.
The Waffen SS units were supported by a Wehrmacht supply system that routinely denied Waffen SS units significant quantities of weapons and equipment. Eicke's scrounging ability earned him a "reputation as the most original, resourceful — and successful — stealer of weapons, supplies, and equipment in the SS.
But the most significant shortage was in the acquisition of heavy artillery guns to outfit the division artillery units.
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Equipment shortfalls plagued the Waffen SS units throughout the winter as they conducted training for the upcoming campaign in the West. It was not until April that the SS Totenkopf received its full allocation of heavy field artillery and prime movers along with German equipment to replace that of Czech manufacture. In terms of priority of arms and equipment, the Waffen SS remained secondary to other Army units.
Three Army Groups consisting of divisions were deployed for this offensive. At a time when only seven of the divisions in the German Army were motorized, the OKW had little choice but to deploy the fully motorized Waffen SS divisions.
Although the SS Totenkopf and the Polizei Divisions were initially deployed as part of the reserve, both were eventually engaged in the battles for France. The campaign marked the first time that SS units fought under the command of their own officers.
The new panzer divisions moved rapidly through the countryside splitting the allied armies in two. The motorized SS units, able to keep up with the panzer divisions, were quickly ordered to engage the enemy at critical points such as defending against the British counter attack near Arras.
Military History Online
Throughout the campaign through the Low Countries and France the Waffen SS Divisions displayed a reckless aggressiveness, which resulted in great success along with a high casualty rate, especially among officers. The courage and success of these formations however was overshadowed by the actions of the SS Leibstandarte at Wormhoudt and the SS Totenkopf at Le Paradis where members of these SS formations executed allied prisoners of war.
The Western Campaign of demonstrated the hallmarks of Waffen SS behavior; reckless aggressiveness in the assault, fanatical defense against enemy attacks, and a reputation for committing savage atrocities. In comparison with the Wehrmacht units, the presence of the fledgling Waffen SS units had a very limited impact on the overall success of the either the Polish or the Western Campaigns. The differences however, between regular German Army units and Waffen SS units in regards to leadership, training, personnel, morale, and equipment was to become of notable significance throughout the further expansion and development of the Waffen SS formations during the Second World War.
For this enormous undertaking against "Jewish Bolshevism", Hitler and his Nazi ideology's archenemy, the German high command concentrated divisions comprised of over three million soldiers. The now expanded Waffen SS organizations, consisting of only five divisions and just overmen, were divided among the different army groups.
Placed under the command of the Wehrmachtthese units were once again considered as secondary by many army commanders. However, by the end of Novemberthe Waffen SS had suffered officers and men killed and officers and 27, men wounded or missing. For the Waffen SS, the year between the surrender of France and the attack to the East saw a major reorganization and expansion. With the expansion came the requirement for more trained personnel and equipment.
Units such as the Leibstandarte and Das Reich received additional operational experience during operations in the Balkans and Greece, while other units such as the Totenkopfdivision used its time wisely to train for the challenges of fighting in Russia.
According to Sydnor, "The main emphasis in the new training was on mobile warfare over much broader and more open expanses of territory. Special drills included assaulting fortified positions, fighting in villages and heavily wooded areas, and the practice in developing camouflage techniques for long distance moves through open country.
The first phase consists of the initial German blitzkrieg in the summer of that ended with the assault on Moscow, the subsequent Soviet winter counteroffensives, and the German defensive operations.
During this period, the Waffen SS divisions continued to serve as separate divisions under the command of different Army Groups. Trapped in the Demyansk Pocket from January — Octoberthe Totenkopfdivision was, "the nucleus of a mixed force of surrounded army and waffen SS formations that hung onto the Valdai Hills, prevented a major Russian breakthrough, and stabilized the weakened right flank of Army Group North.
During the bitter fighting outside of Moscow against the Soviet counteroffensive, the Das Reich was virtually destroyed. During a meeting between a regimental commander of Das Reich and General Model, Model asked, "What is your regimental strength at the moment?
They were the remnant of a regiment which had gone into battle more than two thousand strong. The net result of the first year of fighting in Russia was two fold. First, the heavy casualties among veterans meant that replacements had to be found. Often, these replacements who, according to Theodore Eicke were, "Markedly inferior soldiers to those whose places they filled".
A shortage of manpower within the Reich forced the Waffen SS to relax the once stringent selection process and recruit from volksdeutschepeople of German heritage living within the Greater Reich, and eventually from non-Germanic races. A second outcome of these difficult battles of attrition was the added prestige and confidence that senior Army officers such as General Manstein bestowed upon the Waffen SS for their excellent performance in combat.
They are a genuine elite formation that I am happy and proud to have under my command. They had proven themselves in combat and gained the prestige and confidence of the German Army. In view of this, the Leibstandarte, the Totenkopfdivision, Wiking and the Das Reich were reorganized into panzer grenadier divisions, complete with tank battalions.
As the tide began to turn against Hitler, with the fall of Stalingrad and the loss of North Africa, he placed a greater demand upon the men of the SS who where, "an extraordinary body of men, devoted to an idea, loyal unto death. Spearheading an operation to recapture the city of Kharkov, the SS divisions, Leibstandarte, Totenkopf and Das Reich, achieved one of the most spectacular victories of the war by recapturing this key city and bringing the Soviet offensive to a halt.
With his faith in his SS formations now vindicated, Hitler ensured that the SS divisions to include the newly forming SS Hohenstauffen, Frundesberg, and Hitlerjugend divisions no longer had to fight the German Army for resources and received a priority of both men and materials to include the recently developed heavy tanks and the latest equipment. Despite the Stalingrad victory, the Soviets in the summer of went on the strategic defensive in anticipation of a German attack against the Kursk Salient.
The SS divisions were again asked to spearhead another offensive. It was hoped by the senior German leadership that a summer offensive would break the Soviet's offensive capabilities and provide the Furher with a much needed victory in the face of defeats in Africa and Sicily.
The results of "Operation Citadel" were a disaster for the Wehrmacht and the SS divisions taking part. With the German defeat at Kursk, the Soviets gained the strategic initiative for good.
The subsequent Soviet offensive during the summer of proved devastating for the Wehrmacht. During the retreat, the SS formations became the "fire brigades" in the East.
As motorized divisions, they were routinely rushed to the critical points on the front to seal a breach in the German lines or slow down the Soviet onslaught long enough for other formations to escape. They had in the words of General Wohler, commander of the 8th Army, "stood like a rock in the Army, while the enemy broke through in neighboring sectors.
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