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"SS relationship with regular army" Topic


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austinjacobite08 Aug 2007 6:34 a.m. PST

Hi lads! Usually over on the Napoleonics page, but have been reading John Keegans's excellent MASK OF COMMAND (what a portrait of Hitler that is!) There are, of course, passing references to the SS throughout and I was curious…

Like Napoleon's Imperial Guard, it appears to be an army within an army, specially recruited -- height requirements, years of service in the army, etc.

La Garde had a complex relationship with the regulars, it was envied, pampered, coveted, but also inspired great confidence and respect. Guardmen were payed more than regulars -- a private made the same as a sergeant in the line -- better rations, equipment, etc. Only the emperor commanded them in batttle.

How so the SS? Was their pay better? Did they draw recruits from the army? Did regular army generals command them? Did they use existing supply services or have their own?

How did it work?

LeiFeng08 Aug 2007 6:44 a.m. PST

As I remember my history the Heer got all the conscripts, which meant the SS got a lot of foreigners and what have you, bit like French Foreign Legion, until the powers that be took more notice.
Wikipedia will have it all in great detail.

50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick08 Aug 2007 6:52 a.m. PST

After Himmler took over the Replacement Army, he could send men anywhere he wanted, which goes part of the way toward explaining that sudden massive expansion of the SS very late in the war.


Initially the Waffen-SS was seen as a bit of a sinecure, the "asphalt soldiers" who did more parading than fighting. They didn't really come into their own until the winter of 42-43, when they were instrumental in stabilizing the shredded German front in Ukraine. By that point Himmler's own star was ascendant in the bizarre Nazi hierarchy, and he could run his empire-within-an-empire without much interference from anyone.

John the Confused08 Aug 2007 6:58 a.m. PST

Following LeiFeng point.

I believe the German constitution only permited Germans to serve in the German Army. Since the SS was not part of the army it could provide a "home" for the various foreigners who joined the German side in the Second World War. This led to one of the many contradictions of Nazi Germany in that the orgainsation responsibilty for keeping the German nation pure included a large number of men from other nations.

wehrmacht08 Aug 2007 7:07 a.m. PST

>Initially the Waffen-SS was seen as a bit of a sinecure, the "asphalt soldiers" who did more parading than fighting.

Maybe so, but the W-SS were also derided by the regular Army command for taking excessive casualties in the Polish and French campaigns of '39 and '40. They were in at the sharp end, and no mistake.

Here is a nice summary that covers many of your questions, from the "Handbook on German Military Forces".

link

Cheers,

w.

fowler08 Aug 2007 7:10 a.m. PST

They did receive free mineral water from the SS mineral water monopoly……..one example of special treatment…..

se :)

CLOSED ACCOUNT08 Aug 2007 7:11 a.m. PST

"I believe the German constitution only permited Germans to serve in the German Army. "

Nope.

Foriegners served in the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS.

Macaroni08 Aug 2007 7:19 a.m. PST

Yes, that is so. The SS did benefit from often getting the best equipment and quite often were considered to be elite units.

The Centurian08 Aug 2007 7:37 a.m. PST

Only about a quarter to a third of the Waffen SS can be considered elite. The balance were either no better than mercenaries, or a complete cess pool of humanity (aka Dirlewanger Brigade, the Kaminski Brigade, etc…). The lower numbered units were generally (but not all) the best, and they received the best men and material. Other units, such as the Russian divisions, were on the other extreme, and did not have anywhere near as well supplied.

The Centurian08 Aug 2007 7:41 a.m. PST

Oh, and the Waffen SS began as its existance as definitely under the control of the Wehrmacht. It wasn't until 1944 that a Waffen SS general could command an army, for example (that was in Normandy). Rundstedt and Rommel both opposed this selection – but I'm work now so I don't have all the facts. After the July 20th assassination attempt on Hitler, the Waffen SS grew far more independant.

Jovian108 Aug 2007 7:59 a.m. PST

From my readings, the Waffen-SS was definitely NOT like Napoleon's Imperial Guard. Yes, some of the W-SS units had priviledges and received in some cases better equipment than some Heer regiments, but they were nothing like the IG. Some SS units were very effective as Tigertankguy eludes to and others were the dregs of any military formation. Certain SS regiments had excellent fighting records like Viking, and Das Reich, which were feared by their enemies. Others had lack-luster records and poor performance and often suffered higher casualty rates when compared to Heer regiments. There were many elite formations in the German army of WWII – and the Waffen SS as a whole was not – only individual units within were elite.

The Heer regiment Grossdeutchland probably has as good a claim to being the "Imperial Guard" of the German army as anything else – its fighting record, special treatment, and propensity to get some of the best equipment speaks to its status.

Pizzagrenadier08 Aug 2007 8:07 a.m. PST

The Wehrmacht troops often called the SS men "Fire Eaters" both as an insult to their special treatment, their tendency to be showoffs with special uniforms and insignia, and sometimes a grudging respect for their combat abilities (not as often). Some of it was probably jealousy at not getting singled out for better supply and weapons. Probably also has to do with the simple fact that soldiers like to grouse about "Glory boys". Seen plenty of letters from Wehrmacht soldiers speaking along these lines about the SS. A lot depended on the politics of the individual Wehrmacht soldier as well in his attitude to the SS, so some might respect them because he held strong National Socialist beliefs while others might have resented or despised the crooks in the Nazi party (for whatever reason) and not liked the SS at all. Hitler seemed to have been well liked, even until the end by most members of both the SS and the Wehrmacht (he was often seen as "above" the dirty politics of the party).

Just some general "attitude" generalizations from my own readings of German soldier memoirs and letters (get "Frontsoldaten" for some really good reading on the common German soldier (War from the ground up).

Keith

leidang08 Aug 2007 8:09 a.m. PST

An interesting book to read that touches on some of the conflict between the 2 branches is "The Enigma of General Blaskowitz". He was the only surviving, german general at the start of the war that never made Field Marshall, primarily because of his enmity with the SS and Nazi command. During the invasion of Poland he actually came very close to having his troops fire on a deaths head unit that was rounding up poles but the SS unit backed down and came back to finish the job another day.

At the end of the war it is widely believed he was killed by ss prisoners after he was put into the general population of a POW camp. It's a really interesting portrait of a honorable prussian general trying to serve his country and not necessarily his Nazi commanders.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Aug 2007 8:42 a.m. PST

I would think that a major difference between the Heer-SS and Guard-vs-Line relationship would be the fact that Napoleon's Guard was composed almost entirely of deserving veterans from the line units. They had earned their spot in the Guard and had once shared all the hardships of the line units. The line units might envy them their privilages but they knew that the Guardsmen had once been one of them. And just as importantly, anyone in a line unit knew that if he performed well he might one day enter the ranks of the Guard himself.

This is much different from the Heer-SS relationship. They were two different organizations and I doubt that there were many (any?) transfers from one to the other. This would create an entirely different feeling between the groups.

Scott Washburn
paperterrain.com

fowler08 Aug 2007 9:32 a.m. PST

Transfers of wehrmacht personal to the waffen SS and General SS were very common before and during WWII, (and vice-versa).

Examples: Heer soldiers transferring to the Schutzpolizei pre/post war, wehrmacht officers and NCO's transferred to the 1943 Hitler Youth Division and Heer officer cadets in the 36th SS Division during 1945…….

This was accellerated when Himmer became head of the Reserve Army during 1944…..

While membership of any organisation, trade body or hobby group was illegal for the Wehrmacht soldier, (except basket weaving I think…..) previous membership of the Nazi party or afiliated bodies, (such as Gen Barenfangers pre-war membership of the SA) 'could' be judged favourably by the Heer personel office when allocating better jobs in the 'corporation'…..

It's not a black and white situation…..working out the relationships between the services…..very murky…….

But then that's what makes the WWII German Armed forces interesting…….?

se :)

aercdr08 Aug 2007 9:45 a.m. PST

On the other hand both the Heer and the SS were involved in genocide and crimes against humanity. For years the rule of thumb was that the army fought honorably and the SS were the criminals. Vast amounts of recent research (Omar Bartov being a good source) have shown that the Army was just as National Socialist as the SS. Great soldiers, maybe they all were. Criminals all? No doubt.

fowler08 Aug 2007 10:00 a.m. PST

Un like the SS the Heer had 'morale',(commissars)officers selected from decorated front line soldiers with the 'right' political connections, (maybe pre-service party affiliations).

Started during 1943, (?)….bucking the soldiers up, convincing them everything was going to OK……and if you disagreed with them….a trip to Anklam for rehabilitation training….. :D

se :)

austinjacobite08 Aug 2007 12:48 p.m. PST

Interesting stuff, all! Many thanks! (That link to the German Army thing is great.)

Murvihill08 Aug 2007 1:28 p.m. PST

While SS units were ordered around by Wehrmacht generals in campaigns, the SS had a seperate administrative chain of command. Wehrmacht generals therefore weren't in much of a position to change how the SS functioned either on the battlefield or in rear areas. All they could do was complain to the SS administration, who made up their own minds about whether the general was right or not.

quidveritas08 Aug 2007 1:45 p.m. PST

I'm no great expert here but . . .

Early in the war -- 1940, the SS was largely a volunteer organization. Ribbontrop's son served in the early LAH unit IIRC. Again, if memory serves, Ribbontrop's son commented several times about what a joy it was to serve with such highly motivated "volunteers" -- there were no conscripts in his unit.

mjc

fowler09 Aug 2007 1:32 a.m. PST

Rippentrop's son was n SS Panzer unit commander during the battle for Kursk, summer 1943….his unit recorded such high soviet tank 'kills' an officer from the SS Korp was despatched to investigate……his investigation found they had underestimated the true total of kills….

Funny looking bloke, but good at his job…… ::)

se :)

Fred Cartwright09 Aug 2007 3:09 a.m. PST

Great soldiers, maybe they all were. Criminals all? No doubt.

That's a fairly sweeping statement! To brand every single German soldier a criminal is a little harsh don't you think? I'm sure there were one or two not guilty of war crimes. There may even have been the odd allied soldier guilty of a war crime too!

Gary Kennedy11 Aug 2007 6:25 a.m. PST

I hesitate slightly to post on this subject, but I would argue that the Garde Imperial and the Schutz Staffel were two very different entities despite some seeming similarities.

Both began as small organisations and were eventually expanded as their relative wars dragged on. But the Garde was to the best of my knowledge always a military tool. It was used as a way of channeling proven, experienced soldiers into units that would be used on the battlefield to deliver as far as possible a decisive blow.

The SS on the other hand were initially formed as a way of projecting the Nazi ideal of the perfect Aryan soldier. There was always a political and racial undercurrent to the SS that is not readily apparent elsewhere in military history that I can think of (outside of the height requirement beloved of so many Regiments!). Perhaps that's what gives some of us pause for thought when considering the SS, it certainly does me anyhow. It took sometime for SS Divisions to become regarded as elite, and that was largely a result of their seeing combat and learning on the job, which is not really any different to other good Wehrmacht Divisions. And out of the almost forty SS Divisions, quite how many could be considered effective combat formations is open to debate, my instinct would say perhaps a third.

Different times, different societies and very different political aims between the two organisations.

Gary

Michael Dorosh13 Aug 2007 2:55 p.m. PST

The SS also got conscripts late in the war, even in the Volksdeutsche formations. Generally, the Heer considered them 'good comrades' in the last half, once their fighting abilities had been proven (at least, the low-numbered divisions). The institutionalized racism of the Germans meant the Heer probably didn't think much of the exotic formations making up the high-numbered divisions, but by that point, who could afford to be picky?

Michael Dorosh13 Aug 2007 3:00 p.m. PST

Incidentally, Omer Bartov's methodology is more than a little suspect; he tries too hard to make his point. I dissected his book on the barbarization of warfare, and I think he tried to pull far too much out of his primary source documents. Of course, they said the same things about Goldhagen, too.

What is clear is that the Heer was certainly complicit, though what they thought they were doing is open to suggestion. Shooting saboteurs and killing civilians are vastly different things when described to a third party, but you can use those words to describe the same act.

Did German soldiers see themselves as murderers? Hardly. Few criminals ever do see themselves that way. So the whole question becomes complex. What did they think they were doing? The Germans as a whole felt a moral superiority and a clear mission to cleanse Europe. We know that they were wrong to feel this way (I hope we know that!), but this was all before Nuremberg and the idea of international law.

Photos of Germans – "ordinary Germans" as Goldhagen calls them – posing with teenaged boys and girls hanging from the neck are puzzling to us. To men on the Eastern Front, in a fight for their very lives and what they saw as a national perogative – things must have seemed very different. Which doesn't excuse the disgusting and criminal things they did – all of them, not just the SS or the einsatzgruppen – but it may help make some of it a little more comprehensible.

Frontovik15 Aug 2007 3:23 a.m. PST

Goldhagen took the phrase "ordinary Germans" from Browning's book on the same formation – 'Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland'

A much better work IMO that reaches opposite conclusions to Goldhagen – that it isn't a uniquely German evil from the 1940s.

Oh yeah, Reserve Police Battalion 101 (the subject of Browning's & Goldhagen's books) could hardly be said to be engaged in a fight for their lives. Being several hundred miles behind the front lines in Poland.

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