by Chris William
After Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP — Nazi party) came to power in 1933, he continued the belief that the use of brute force in all aspects of his regime would always be needed, just as it had been during his ascension to power. Across Germany in the early 1930s, local party officials formed small bands of armed SS men to protect them during public appearances, suppress rivals, or to be called upon in the event of an emergency.
Wanting a more dependable body guard, but no longer trusting the general members of the SS or SA, Hitler authorized the formation of the Leibstandarte Schutzstaffel - Adolf Hitler (LAH — “Adolf Hitler Life Guards”) in 1933. This elite SS group would protect him from personal harm and carry out any dictates he ordered, regardless of any moral implications. LAH candidates had to be in excellent physical condition (being a minimum of 5’ 11’’ tall), politically reliable, and able to prove their Germanic racial purity going back 150 years. After selected, they went through a series of political indoctrinations and physical training, emphasizing at all times, their undying loyalty to Adolf Hitler and the German people.
This devotion and blind obedience of the SS men was to be tested when the LAH took part the following year in the “Night of the Long Knives:” the systematic assassinations of many top ranking Sturmabteilung (SA -— Stormtrooper) leaders conducted as Hitler’s first official act of ordered mass murder. In 1934, the smaller, scattered regional SS armed guard groups were consolidated and named the SS Verfugungstruppe (SS-VT Special purpose troops). Many of the SS-VT applicants became candidates as they were deemed politically and ideologically worthy, but unable to meet all of the physical requirements of the LAH.
At the same time that the LAH and SS-VT were growing, the armed Wachverbände were formed to guard the increasing number of concentration camp inmates. In 1936,Wachverbände were renamed the SS-Totenkopf-verbände” or SS-TV — SS “Death’s Head groups.”
When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the LAH acted as a separate military force from the traditional Wehrmacht (armed services), enthusiastically fighting the Poles in the SS’s first military field operation. At this time, they began to be referred to as the Waffen (armed) SS. Later, as the numbers of members grew, the SS-VT and the SS-TV would join the LAH in the Waffen SS and SS field police units, fighting alongside the regular armed forces, or orchestrating many of the atrocities that took place during the conquest of the countries across Europe.
When the conflict with Russia opened in 1941, the Waffen SS began its historic fight to the death with the purveyors of Bolshevism. In the east, some Waffen SS military and police units carried out the systematic extermination of those they considered as Untermenschen (sub-humans). Thousands of Jews, Slavs, gypsies, and others deemed “inferior” were taken to secluded areas and killed for no other reason than their ethnicity or race. Germany’s goal wasto make room for those people that the Nazi regime found to be more acceptable.
THE WAFFEN SS
As the two front war continued, Waffen SS infantry, engineer, communications, armored, and all other manner of units were formed, hastily trained, equipped, and sent to the fronts onlyto be decimated due to their ideological fanaticism on the battlefields. Over time, the dwindling number of traditional applicants caused the racial qualifications of potential members to be lessened. Waffen SS recruiters embraced many new non-German men from France, Belgium, Italy, and other conquered or allied territories where the ideology of the Russian communists was more repugnant then the doctrine of the German National Socialists.
The uniforms of the Waffen SS took on the general form and color of those of the German land army, but with variations to their collar tabs, shoulder boards, and sleeve devices that gave them a more modern and striking appearance. The SS wool tunic shells (made from better quality materials for officers) consisted of a field gray-green color with pebbled buttons, worn over matching pants or breeches. Those members who served in armored SS groups wore different blouse configurations of short black tunics having wrap around front flaps, open necks and larger lapels
The right collar tabs on all variations showed the general group association of the wearer, such as doppelte Siegrune (SS victory runes — double “lightning bolts”) orthe Totenkopf (death’s head) units. The left collar tab displayed the member’s rank through a series of pips, stripes, and oak leaves.
Rank and unit affiliation was also displayed on the tunic’s shoulder boards through a series of colored under lays, pips, and braiding. A unique SS tapered-wing eagle clutching a circle and canted swastika adorned the left sleeve. Below this, many of the Waffen SS groups wore cuff titles above their sleeve bands featuring their individual unit’s group names such as “Deutschland” or “Das Reich.” Awards presented to individual members could be worn on their tunic. Brown shirts with black ties (for open neck tunics) and black boots completed the basic uniform.
Headgear authorized for the Waffen SS normally consisted of the standard visor cap as used by the rest of the military, but produced in a gray/green material with a black headband, black leather visor, and colored service piping. Enlisted visor caps had a black leather chin strap, while officer models featured a bullion cord device. The pointed-wing SS eagle perched on a oak leaf encircled swastika was attached below the crown and above the striking skull and crossbones badge mounted at the cap band level. Field caps could be either the standard overseas model in grey/green, or the later M-43 billed soft cap, both of which had the eagle and skull devices mounted on the fronts (or a combination of front and side).
When the Waffen SS replenished its ranks by adding non-German troops, several types of special headgear were introduced in order to facilitate the needs of the new volunteers. One of the more interesting models was the Tarbusch worn by the Croatian SS 13th Mountain Division, “Handschar.” These field gray headgear pieces were produced as traditional brimless fezzes favored among the Islamic men. A maroon version was worn for walking out dress and by officers.
Combat helmets followed the same designs of the general German Wehrmacht. Theydiffered by having a gray/green paint color and an SS rune shield applied on the side.
SS troops favored the use of camouflage smocks, pants, and equipment covers whenever they were made available.Various patterns of green, brown, orange, or white were employed to match the seasons and help them to blend into their battlefield surroundings.
Black leather belts with either rectangular (for enlisted) or round (for officers) buckles were worn while in the field. Both types of buckles were faced with a spread wing eagle over a static swastika surrounded by an oak leaf border, and the SS motto of Meine Ehre heisst Treue (My Honor is Loyalty). Black leather ammunition pouches, pistol holsters, map cases, and other equipment were worn when in the field.
Weapons used by the Waffen SS, for the most part, consisted of the same as those used by the regular Wehrmacht troops. K-98 rifles, MG34 and 42 machine guns, and a variety of 9mm pistols proved as deadly to allied troops in the hands of the SS as they did in those of the regular army.
Field police formations attached to the SS often wore unique insignias with the additions of specialized patches or cuff titles that incorporated the SS runes into the designs. Likewise, female auxiliary members of the SS wore distinctive tailored uniforms (mostly in gray/green) with the characteristic SS eagle and swastika on their left arm and SS runes in an oval patch applied to their left tunic pocket.
Waffen SS soldiers carried paper Soldbücher (pay books) at all times. Theseauthorized them to draw pay, and contained personal and service information about them for identification.
As the battlefields wore down the Nazi fighting machine, more and more veteran Waffen SS troops succumbed in the fierce battles with the advancing allies in the both the east and the west. Fresh, idealistic recruits found themselves being thrown into combat for the first time, unprepared for the horrors that awaited them. Regardless, theyfervently fighting alongside the remaining seasoned soldiers as only those young adherents to the Nazi regime would. Allied soldiers dreaded the time that they had to fight the Waffen SS men, bearing both a mixture of soldierly respect, and an intense moral hatred for their fanatical foes.
When the war was finally lost for the Third Reich and the nightmarish realities of the death camps and killing fields operated by the SS came to light, many of those murderers responsible were hunted down by the conquering allies. Many received the same fate as their victims.
Part I of Black Knights of the Third Reich CLICK HERE