The Waffen-SS (German pronunciation: [ˈvafən.ɛs.ɛs], Armed SS) was a national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel ("Protective Squadron") or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and served alongside the Wehrmacht (regular army), but was never formally part of it. It was Adolf Hitler's will that the Waffen-SS never be integrated into the army, it was to remain the armed wing of the Party and to become an elite police force once the war was won. During time of peace, it remained under the control of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler's SS organization, through the SS Führungshauptamt (SS operational command office). Upon mobilization, however, the SS handed over its tactical control to the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).
At first membership was open to "Aryans" only in accordance with the racial policies of the Nazi state, but in 1940 Hitler authorized the formation of units composed largely or solely of Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts, and by the end of the war ethnic non-Germans made up approximately 60% of the Waffen-SS.
After the war at the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organization due to its essential connection to the Nazi Party and its involvement in war crimes. Waffen-SS veterans were denied many of the rights afforded to veterans who had served in the German Army, Luftwaffe (air force) or Kriegsmarine (navy). The exception made was for Waffen-SS conscripts sworn in after 1943, who were exempted due to their involuntary servitude. In the 1950s and 1960s, Waffen-SS veteran groups successfully fought numerous legal battles in West Germany to overturn the Nuremberg ruling and win pension rights for their members.
The Waffen SS was involved in another threat in Poland, the Warsaw Uprising. The Jewish Resistance and the Polish Resistance had placed heavy casualties, and not until mid-1943, the Waffen SS had arrested over 1,000 resistance members, resulting into a victory for the Germans. After the war like all Nazi related organisations, the Waffen SS was banned and terminated.
Early SS uniforms (1925-1928)Edit
The SS can trace its origins to several early Freikorps and Nazi Party formations, among them the Erhardt Naval Brigade, Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten|Stahlhelm, and most significantly the Sturmabteilung (SA), of which the SS was originally a subordinate organization.
The very first Uniforms and insignia of the Sturmabteilung|SA uniforms and insignia were paramilitary uniforms fashioned by early Nazis which incorporated parts from World War I uniforms to include such features used by other Freikorps formation such as high boots, daggers, and the kepi hat. The 8-man 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler|Stabswache ("staff guard"), Hitler's bodyguard, soon renamed the Stosstrupp ("shock troop"), also adopted in May 1923 the Totenkopf|death's head and oak leaf as a means of insignia, both of which were already deeply rooted in European military history. In 1924, while the Nazi Party was legally banned following the Beer Hall Putsch, Frontbann (underground SA) leader Gerhard Roßbach located a large store of war-surplus brown denim shirts in Austria, originally intended for tropical uniforms. When the SA (which included the nascent SS) was re-founded in 1925 following Hitler's release from prison, these brown shirts were issued as uniforms. The only insignia was the swastika armband, usually homemade, except for the handful of men constituting the Stosstrupp's successor, the Schutzkommando ("protection command"), who continued the use of the Totenkopf pinned to cap or collar.
In mid-1925 the Schutzkommando was renamed the Sturmstaffel ("storm squadron") and in December the Schutzstaffel ("protection squadron"), and in the following year adopted its first recognizable rank insignia system which was used mainly by senior SS personnel at major rallies, with the rank and file of the SS, like the rest of the SA, still wearing a variety of brown shirts or paramilitary uniforms with no recognizable insignia. The early rank system of 1926 consisted of a swastika armband worn with white stripes, with the number of stripes determining the rank of the bearer. Thus, the very first SS rank system was as follows:
- Reichsführer (National Leader) Three Stripes
- Gauführer (District Leader) Two Stripes
- Staffelführer (Squadron Leader) One Stripe
- Mann (military rank)|Mann (Trooper) No Stripes
Under the above system, basic SS troopers were organized into ten man Staffeln, each under the authority of a Staffelführer. SS districts, known as SS-Gaus, were under the authority of a Gauführer while all SS district leaders answered to a national leader of the SS called the Reichsführer, at this time Josef Berchtold. In line with the Führerprinzip (Leader Principle) of the Nazi Party's ideology, the word Führer was incorporated into all ranks except those for basic SS troopers. By 1927, the Sturmabteilung had greatly increased its numbers and had standardized the "brown shirt" uniform which would thereafter be permanently associated with that group: shirt, tie, breeches, boots, and cylindrical kepi, all brown. As the SS was at this time a small unit within the SA, SS personnel during this period likewise wore brown shirt uniforms but distinguished themselves as an elite among the SA by wearing black neckties and black kepis with Totenkopf and Party-eagle badges.
By this time, with influences from the Stahlhelm, the SA leadership adopted its first collar insignia and also added a new SA rank of Standartenführer, or "Flag Standard Leader" in charge of regiment sized Standarten (incorporating the company sized Staffeln); the SS at this time adopted the same rank as well. The 1927 ranks had no insignia for SA/SS troopers (still known by the title "Mann") and the previous rank of Staffelführer had become shortened to simply Führer or "Leader". The higher SS ranks of Standartenführer, Gauführer, and Reichsführer like their SA counterparts now used a system of oak leaves displayed on both collars of the brown SA shirt. One oak leaf signified a Standartenführer, two a Gauführer, and three oak leaves were worn by the Reichsführer-SS, who reported directly to the Oberste SA-Führer.
Over the course of the next year the burgeoning SA saw the emergence of new units and ranks, and for the first time a comprehensive system of rank insignia. A basic squad unit, the ten-man Schar, was grouped into platoon-sized Truppen, and these into company-sized Stürme which in turn made up battalion-sized Sturmbanne. New ranks went with the new formations: Scharführer, with one pip worn on the left collar patch, Truppführer, two pips, Sturmführer, three pips, and Sturmbannführer, four pips. On the right collar of SA uniforms was worn a patch with two numbers indicating Standarte and Sturmbann affiliation. Because the SS numbered fewer than a thousand men, it did not adopt the Sturmbann unit at this time, and right-hand SS collar patches displayed the number of the Standarte only. At the higher end of the organization, in 1928 the SA Gau-Stürme were restructured into regional Gruppen, each commanded by a leader with a new general-officer rank, Gruppenführer; its insignia was the three oak leaf collar patch. At this time the former rank of Gauführer was renamed Oberführer "senior leader." The collar patches of the SA were color-coded: each Gruppe had its own distinctive color. The SS was considered to be a Gruppe unto itself; its color, naturally, was black, and Reichsführer-SS Erhard Heiden held the rank of Gruppenfuhrer and wore its three-oakleaf insignia.
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