Hitler’s Personal Army: The Role of the German Waffen-SS in World War Two

Hitler’s Personal Army: The Role of the German Waffen-SS in World War Two


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SS Panzer regiment in Belgium, 1943

When Hitler became Chancellor he ordered the formation of a new armed SS unit to escort and protect him. In September 1933 this was officially named the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler, or LAH. Simultaneously, other groups of armed SS barracked troops were established across Germany and were attached to local Nazi leaders, called the SS-Verfugungstruppe under Paul Hausser.

A third armed SS group called Wachverbande was created under Theodor Eicke to guard the growing numbers of concentration camps. This grew into five battalions and in March 1936 was renamed the SS-Totenkopf division or Death’s Head units due to their skull and crossbones collar patches.

Himmler with Waffen-SS officers in Luxemburg, 1940.

The Waffen-SS before the war

Before war officially started, the Waffen-SS or ‘armed SS’ were trained in assault detachment tactics, mobile battle troops and shock troops. By 1939 the LAH had been expanded to include three motorised infantry battalions and the Verfgungstruppe had additional infantry Battalions.

Their ultimate role was to be a force that would maintain order across the whole of Nazi occupied Europe on behalf of the Fuhrer and to achieve that, they were expected to prove themselves as a fighting force and make blood sacrifices at the front, alongside the regular armed forces. They fought alongside the German Army and dealt with all political enemies of Germany by sending those capable of work to concentration camps and removing the remainder as the Wehrmacht took each new territory.

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The Waffen-SS role in the Blitzkrieg

In 1939 another combat division was formed by a mass transfer of all uniformed police into the Waffen-SS for the blitzkrieg of 1940 through France, Holland and Belgium, while the Leibstandarte fought across Yugoslavia and Greece.

In 1941 the Waffen-SS were ordered into Russia and engaged in fighting at Minsk, Smolensk and Borodino. The Waffen-SS started as an elite organization, but as war progressed, these rules were relaxed and some Waffen-SS units formed after 1943 had questionable combat records, such as the SS Dirlewanger Brigade, who were set up as a special Anti-Partisan Brigade to remove political partisans, rather than as a strategic fighting force.

SS tank divisions

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1942 saw the SS divisions refitted with heavy tanks and the numbers of Waffen-SS troops then totalled over 200,000. During March 1943 an SS Panzer-Korps had a major victory when they took Kharkov with the Leibstandarte, Totenkopf and Das Reich Divisions fighting together, but under their own generals.

Special forces

The Waffen-SS had a number of Special Forces similar to the British SOE, who were tasked with special operations such as the rescue of Mussolini by one of the Waffen-SS Mountain Units, the SS-Gebirgsjäger.

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Waffen-SS losses under the Allied attack

In spring 1944 the exhausted and battered SS divisions were ordered to the west, to repel the expected attack of the Americans and British. The Panzer Korps, commanded by Josef ‘Sepp’ Dietrich and his sixth Panzer Army, slowed down the Allied advance across France.

Estimates say that during World War Two, around 180,000 Waffen-SS soldiers were killed in action, with 70,000 listed as missing and 400,000 wounded. By the end of the war over 1 million soldiers in 38 divisions had served in the Waffen-SS, including over 200,000 conscripts.

No surrender allowed

Waffen SS infantry in Russia, 1944.

One of the major differences between the German Army and the Waffen-SS was that they were not permitted to surrender on any account. Their sworn allegiance to the Fuhrer was to death, and while the Wehrmacht divisions were surrendering, it was the Waffen-SS who fought on to the bitter end. In the final week of April, it was a desperate group of Waffen-SS who were defending the Furhrer’s bunker against all odds and the weight of the superior numbers of Allied forces.

The post-war fate of the Waffen-SS

After the war the Waffen-SS was named as a criminal organisation at the Nuremberg Trials due to their connection to the SS and NSDAP. Waffen-SS veterans were denied the benefits granted to other German veterans, with only those who were conscripted into it being exempt from the Nuremberg declaration.


Hitler's Last Stand: The SS and the Battle of Berlin

Through the incorporation of foreign troops, the Waffen-SS managed to double in size every 12 months beginning in late 1942.

In the predawn hours of April 24, 1945, SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg received orders from Army Group Vistula defending Berlin to immediately lead the remnants of the 57th Battalion of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne from its staging area at the SS training camp at Neustrelitz to the German capital.

Krukenberg’s orders called for him to report to the Reich Chancellery for further orders upon arrival in the besieged city. He then awoke Hauptsturmführer Henri Fenet, commander of Sturmbataillon Charlemagne, as the 57th Battalion also was known. Krukenberg instructed Fenet to assemble his men so that Krukenberg could address them. Attired in a gray leather greatcoat, Krukenberg asked for volunteers to go with him to fight the Red Army in Berlin. This would be their last battle.

Although most of the troops wanted to go, just 90 were chosen because there were only a handful of vehicles available to transport them. They set out at 8:30 amin two half-tracks and three heavy trucks. Krukenberg led the convoy along back roads through pine forests where possible to avoid being strafed by marauding Soviet fighters.

Because Soviet forces were blocking the northern entrances into Berlin, the convoy had to take a circuitous route into the bombed-out city. Entering the city from the west, they passed columns of retreating German troops. Some of the retreating Germans taunted them by shouting that they were going the wrong way. Others tapped the sides of their heads to convey that they believed the Charlemagne soldiers were crazy to be heading into battle rather than away from it. The convoy had to navigate its way around barricades and through rubble-choked streets to reach its destination. At 10 pmthe convoy stopped for the night at the Olympiastadion on the east bank of the Havel River in the western section of the city.

While the Charlemagne troops rummaged for refreshments of any sort in a Luftwaffe supply depot, Krukenberg made his way to the Reich Chancellery. He received orders from General of Artillery Helmuth Weidling to take command of Defense Sector C in southeast Berlin. To defend the sector, Krukenberg would have the volunteers of Sturmbataillon Charlemagne, the remnants of two regiments of the 11th SS Panzergrenadier Nordland Division, and whatever other soldiers Weidling’s staff could scrape together.

The Waffen-SS soldiers of the Charlemagne and Nordland Divisions were willing to fight to the death with other troops of the so-called Berlin Garrison, not because they were ardent Nazis, but rather because they were vehemently anti-Bolshevist. Their last stand in the streets of Berlin was made in the face of insurmountable odds against which any sort of victory was utterly impossible.

The foreign Waffen-SS units of Nazi Germany were an outgrowth of the native German Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS organization has attained near-mythic status in the annals of World War II history. The organization began as part of the Nazi Party’s private security apparatus known as the Schutzstaffel. The soldiers in the unit furnished security at Nazi Party functions.

The SS expanded in the wake of Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Shortly afterward, the organization comprised three distinct branches. The first branch was the Allgemeine, or General SS, which oversaw administrative and policing functions. The second branch was SS-Totenkopfverbande, the Death’s Head Units, which operated concentration and extermination camps.

The third branch was the Waffen-SS, meaning Armed SS. This part began as a small armed force loyal only to Hitler. The Waffen-SS later expanded into a major military organization. Although the lines were not always clear between the three branches, it was the Waffen-SS that was equipped for war and eventually deployed for battle.

A dichotomy exists in the popular conception of the Waffen-SS. On one side, they are viewed as criminals who killed prisoners, massacred civilians, and showed little mercy. Indeed, SS troops were guilty of all these behaviors. On the other side, they are seen as modern knights and regarded as patriots who fought for their country against the scourge of Bolshevism. In this sympathetic portrait, they are painted as superbly trained and equipped soldiers who inflicted heavy casualties on their battlefield opponents.

The latter view of the Waffen-SS is flawed for two reasons. First, it endorses Nazi propaganda, which presented SS troops as elite for political and recruiting purposes. Second, most existing first-hand accounts of the Waffen-SS in action were written by SS soldiers. Like many accounts penned by soldiers, there is always the temptation to embellish their achievements. As defeated soldiers serving a criminal regime, their memoirs often seek to justify their service on patriotic grounds or to deny that any atrocious conduct occurred. Many SS veterans worked tirelessly after the war to repair the Waffen-SS’s tarnished reputation. Whatever the individual member’s actions or conduct, the Waffen-SS served a government guilty of extensive and pervasive criminal behavior and, therefore, is forever tainted by that association.

Yet SS lore also omits the fact that many of the men who served in the Waffen-SS were not German citizens. By war’s end, there were numerically more non-Germans serving in the Waffen-SS than natural-born Germans. The Waffen-SS leadership recruited and fielded entire divisions along ethnic lines. In the latter part of World War II, all regular SS divisions had some foreign soldiers assigned to them. Of the 38 Waffen-SS divisions, 21 were raised with non-Germans as their primary personnel.

The entry of foreign citizens into the Waffen-SS began early in the war. The recruitment of volunteers for the Waffen-SS outside the borders of Nazi Germany was part of SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler’s dream of a pan-European army for the Third Reich. He conceived as early as 1938 the concept of recruiting men of sufficiently Germanic heritage and blood for the Waffen-SS.

The success of the Wehrmacht in the first years of the war placed this dream within reach. As the Nazis conquered and occupied Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France in 1940, millions of Western Europeans came under their dominion. These were exactly the captive populations Himmler wanted for recruiting his European Waffen-SS.

Himmler assigned SS Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger to assist in this effort. Berger, a decorated World War I veteran, joined the brown-shirted Nazi Party paramilitary organization known as the Sturmabteilung (SA) in 1930. An arrogant and belligerent individual, Berger was roundly disliked by the majority of the SA membership. He transferred to the SS in 1936 and subsequently became its chief of recruitment. An advocate for the addition of foreign volunteers, he played an instrumental role in the expansion of the SS.

After the outbreak of war on September 1, 1939, non-German membership in the Waffen-SS grew in importance. The Waffen-SS and the Wehrmacht competed for recruits. The Wehrmacht had an edge in the recruitment race because it could restrict the number of volunteers who could enter the SS.

Berger realized it was going to be difficult to bring in enough replacements to keep the existing SS units at sufficient strength, much less create new formations. At that time, the SS did not have a reserve system like the Wehrmacht’s that funneled new recruits into combat divisions.

The Wehrmacht, though, did not control two groups of potential recruits. One group was the Volksdeutsche. These were individuals of German descent who had settled throughout Europe in the preceding centuries. The Nazis regarded the Volksdeutsche as ethnically German. Their language and culture had German origins, but they were not German citizens.

The other group was composed of individuals who looked Germanic. This group included those of Nordic descent who were Teutonic enough to serve in the military forces of Nazi Germany. This group included Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Dutch, Belgian Flemings, and Swiss from the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland.

Once the Nazis had occupied these countries, it became easier to recruit within their borders. This put Himmler’s dream of an Aryan European army within reach. Although Hitler considered the Third Reich as an entirely German and Austrian endeavor, Himmler thought in terms of ethnicities rather than strict national borders.

Berger moved quickly. The first Waffen-SS recruiting offices in the occupied countries were established in June 1940. Berger had made contact before the war with various right-wing groups throughout Western Europe this sped the recruiting process. The Waffen-SS soon had offices in Oslo, Copenhagen, Antwerp, and The Hague. Since Sweden and Switzerland were officially neutral, German embassies in those nations worked quietly with right-wing groups to gather recruits.

Berger’s optimism for the rapid creation of a multinational Waffen-SS was soon dashed. Few men appeared at the recruiting stations. Those who did show up were often treated as collaborators by their countrymen. They had different motivations for volunteering. Some were dedicated Nazi sympathizers or simply Germanophiles. They wanted to join the seemingly unstoppable Nazi juggernaut. Others enlisted for more mundane reasons, such as to escape poverty. For the impoverished, the Waffen-SS offered the promise of warm barracks and hot meals.

It was a myth that all SS men were volunteers. Recruiters deliberately misled some enlistees regarding what they would be doing. For example, a group of Danish men were told that they were going to Germany to participate in political and athletic training. Similarly, 500 Flemish factory workers employed by the Germans in northern France volunteered for work in Poland under the pretense of higher pay. These men discovered upon arrival that they had been whisked into the Waffen-SS.


Contents

In the early days of the Nazi Party (NSDAP), the leadership realized that a bodyguard unit composed of reliable men was needed. Ernst Röhm formed a guard formation from the 19.Granatwerfer-Kompanie from this formation the Sturmabteilung (SA) soon evolved. Adolf Hitler in early 1923, ordered the formation of a small separate bodyguard dedicated to his service rather than "a suspect mass", such as the SA. [4] Originally the unit was composed of only eight men, commanded by Julius Schreck and Joseph Berchtold. [5] It was designated the Stabswache (staff guard). [6] The Stabswache were issued unique badges, but at this point was still under SA control. Schreck resurrected the use of the Totenkopf ("death's head") as the unit's insignia, a symbol various elite forces had used in the past, including specialized assault troops of Imperial Germany in World War I who used Hutier infiltration tactics. [7]

In May 1923, the unit was renamed Stoßtrupp (Shock Troop)–Hitler. [5] The unit numbered no more than 20 members at that time. [8] On 9 November 1923, the Stoßtrupp, along with the SA and several other Nazi paramilitary units, took part in the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. In the aftermath, Hitler was imprisoned and his party and all associated formations, including the Stoßtrupp, were disbanded. [9]

In the mid-1920s, violence remained a large part of Bavarian politics. [10] Hitler was a potential target. In 1925, Hitler ordered the formation of a new bodyguard unit, the Schutzkommando (protection command). [10] The unit was renamed the Sturmstaffel (assault squadron) and in November was renamed the Schutzstaffel, abbreviated to SS. [11] By 1933 the SS had grown from a small bodyguard unit to a formation of over 50,000 men. The decision was made to form a new bodyguard unit, again called the Stabswache, which was mostly made up of men from the 1st SS-Standarte. [12] By 1933 this unit was placed under the command of Sepp Dietrich, who selected 117 men to form the SS-Stabswache Berlin on 17 March 1933. [13] The unit replaced the army guards at the Reich Chancellery. [13] Out of this initial group, three eventually became divisional commanders, at least eight would become regimental commanders, fifteen became battalion commanders, and over thirty became company commanders in the Waffen-SS. [14] Eleven men from the first company of 117 went on to win the Knights Cross, and forty of them were awarded the German Cross in gold for bravery. [15] Later in 1933, two further training units were formed: SS-Sonderkommando Zossen on 10 May, and a second unit, designated SS-Sonderkommando Jüterbog on 8 July. [16] These were the only SS units to receive military training at that time. Most of the training staff came from the ranks of the army. [16] On 3 September 1933 the two Sonderkommando merged into the SS-Sonderkommando Berlin under Dietrich's command. [17] Most of their duties involved providing outer security for Hitler at his residences, public appearances and guard duty at the Reich Chancellery. [6]

In November 1933, on the 10th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, the Sonderkommando took part in the rally and memorial service for the NSDAP members who had been killed during the putsch. During the ceremony, the members of the Sonderkommando swore personal allegiance to Hitler. At the conclusion the unit received the new title, "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" (LAH). [18] The term Leibstandarte was derived partly from Leibgarde – a somewhat archaic German translation of "Guard of Corps" or personal bodyguard of a military leader ("Leib" = lit. "body, torso") – and Standarte: the Schutzstaffel (SS) or Sturmabteilung (SA) term for a regiment-sized unit, also the German word for a specific type of heraldic flag (Standard).

On 13 April 1934, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH) to be renamed "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" (LSSAH). Himmler inserted the SS initials into the name to make it clear that the unit was independent from the SA or army. [18] The LSSAH was considered a "National Socialist" unit, which eventually grew into an elite Panzer division of the Waffen-SS. [19] Although nominally under Himmler, Dietrich was the real commander and handled day-to-day administration. [20]

During 1934, Stabschef-SA Ernst Röhm continued to push for greater political influence for his already powerful SA. Hitler decided that the SA had to be eliminated as an independent political force and ordered the LSSAH to prepare for the action. The LSSAH formed two companies under the control of Jürgen Wagner and Otto Reich, these formations were moved to Munich on 30 June. [21]

Hitler ordered all SA leaders to attend a meeting at the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiessee, near Munich. Hitler along with Sepp Dietrich and a unit from the LSSAH travelled to Bad Wiessee to personally oversee Röhm's arrest on 30 June. Later at around 17:00 hours, Dietrich received orders from Hitler for the LSSAH to form an "execution squad" and go to Stadelheim prison where certain SA leaders were being held. [21] There in the prison courtyard, the LSSAH firing squad shot five SA generals and an SA colonel. [22] Additional alleged "traitors" were shot in Berlin by a unit of the Leibstandarte. [23] On 1 July Hitler finally agreed with Göring and Himmler that Röhm should be executed. [24] In what the Nazis called the Röhm Putsch, but otherwise came to be known as the Night of the Long Knives, companies of the LSSAH, together with the Gestapo and Göring's Landespolizeigruppe, performed Death Squad actions. At least 85, but most likely no less than twice that number of people, were executed without trial over the next few days. [24] [25]

This action succeeded in effectively decapitating the SA and removing Röhm's threat to Hitler's leadership. In recognition of their actions, both the LSSAH and the Landespolizeigruppe General Göring were expanded to regimental size and motorized. In addition, the SS became an independent organization, no longer part of the SA. [26]

The LSSAH provided the honor guard at many of the Nuremberg Rallies, and in 1935 took part in the reoccupation of the Saarland. [27] On 6 June 1935, the LSSAH officially adopted a field-grey uniform to identify itself more with the army, which wore a similar uniform. [28] The LSSAH was later in the vanguard of the march into Austria as part of the Anschluss, and in 1938 the unit took part in the occupation of the Sudetenland. [29] By 1939, the LSSAH was a full infantry regiment with three infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and anti-tank, reconnaissance and engineer sub-units. [29] Soon after its involvement in the annexation of Bohemia and Moravia, the LSSAH was redesignated "Infanterie-Regiment Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (mot.)". When Hitler ordered the formation of an SS division in mid-1939, the Leibstandarte was designated to form its own unit, unlike the other Standarten of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) (SS-Standarte Deutschland, SS-Standarte Germania, and SS-Standarte Der Führer). [30] The Polish crisis of August 1939 put these plans on hold, and the LSSAH was ordered to join XIII. Armeekorps, a part of Army Group South, which was preparing for the attack on Poland.

The Leibstandarte division's symbol was a skeleton key, in honor of its first commander, Josef "Sepp" Dietrich (Dietrich is German for skeleton key or lock pick) it was retained and modified to later serve as the symbol for I SS Panzer Corps. [31]

During the initial stages of the invasion of Poland, the LSSAH was attached to the 17.Infanterie-Division [32] and tasked with providing flank protection for the southern pincer. The regiment was involved in several battles against Polish cavalry brigades attempting to hit the flanks of the German advance. At Pabianice, a town near Łódź, the LSSAH fought elements of the Polish 28th Infantry Division and the Wołyńska Cavalry Brigade in close combat. [33] Throughout the campaign, the unit was notorious for burning villages. [34] In addition, members of the LSSAH committed atrocities in numerous Polish towns, including the murder of 50 Jews in Błonie and the massacre of 200 civilians, including children, who were machine gunned in Złoczew. Shootings also took place in Bolesławiec, Torzeniec, Goworowo, Mława, and Włocławek. [35]

After the success at Pabianice, the LSSAH was sent to the area near Warsaw and attached to the 4.Panzer-Division under then Generalmajor (brigadier general) Georg-Hans Reinhardt. The unit saw action preventing encircled Polish units from escaping, and repelling several attempts by other Polish troops to break through. In spite of the swift military victory over Poland, the regular army had reservations about the performance of the LSSAH and SS-VT units due to their higher casualty rate than the army units. [36]

In early 1940 the LSSAH was expanded into a full independent motorized infantry regiment and a Sturmgeschütz (Assault Gun) battery was added to their establishment. [30] The regiment was shifted to the Dutch border for the launch of Fall Gelb. It was to form the vanguard of the ground advance into the Netherlands, tasked with capturing a vital bridge over the IJssel, attacking the main line of defense at the Grebbeberg (the Grebbeline), and linking up with the Fallschirmjäger of Generaloberst Kurt Student's airborne forces, the 7.Flieger-Division and the 22.Luftlande-Infanterie-Division.

Fall Gelb—the invasion of France and the Low Countries—was launched on 10 May 1940. On that day, the LSSAH crossed the Dutch border, [30] covered over 75 kilometres (47 mi), and secured a crossing over the IJssel near Zutphen after discovering that their target bridge had been destroyed. Over the next four days, the LSSAH covered over 215 kilometres (134 mi), and upon entering Rotterdam, several of its soldiers accidentally shot at and seriously wounded General Student. [37] After the surrender of Rotterdam, the LSSAH left for The Hague, which they reached on 15 May, after capturing 3,500 Dutch soldiers as prisoners of war. [38] After the surrender of the Netherlands on 15 May, the regiment was then moved south to France. [39]

After the British counterattack at Arras, the LSSAH, along with the SS-Verfügungs-Division, were moved to hold the perimeter around Dunkirk and reduce the size of the pocket containing the encircled British Expeditionary Force and French forces. [40] The LSSAH took up a position 15 miles south west of Dunkirk along the line of the Aa Canal, facing the Allied defensive line near Watten. [38] That night the OKW ordered the advance to halt, with the British Expeditionary Force trapped. The LSSAH paused for the night. However, on the following day of 25 May, in defiance of Hitler's orders, Dietrich ordered his 3rd battalion to cross the canal and take the Wattenberg Heights beyond, where British artillery observers were putting the regiment at risk. They assaulted the heights and drove the observers off. Instead of being censured for his act of defiance, Dietrich was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. [41]

On 26 May the German advance resumed. By 28 May the LSSAH had taken the village of Wormhout, only ten miles from Dunkirk. [38] After their surrender, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, along with some other units (including French soldiers) were taken to a barn in La Plaine au Bois near Wormhout and Esquelbecq. It was there that troops of the LSSAH 2nd battalion, under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Mohnke committed the Wormhoudt massacre, where 80 British and French prisoners of war were killed. [42] [43] Although it is unarguable that the massacre occurred, Mohnke's level of involvement is impossible to know he was never formally charged and brought to trial. [30] [44]

After the conclusion of the Western campaign on 22 June 1940, the LSSAH spent six months in Metz (Moselle). It was expanded to brigade size (6,500 men). A 'Flak battalion' and a StuG Batterie were among the units added to the LSSAH. A new flag was presented by Heinrich Himmler in September 1940. [45] During the later months of 1940, the regiment trained in amphibious assaults on the Moselle River in preparation for Operation Seelöwe, the invasion of England. After the Luftwaffe's failure in the Battle of Britain and the cancellation of the planned invasion, the LSSAH was shifted to Bulgaria in February 1941 in preparation for Operation Marita, part of the planned invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia. [46]

The operation was launched on 6 April 1941 by aerial bombings of central-southern Yugoslavia, specially over Belgrade causing enormous destructions and thousands of victims and woundeds. After the LSSAH entered on 12 April into the Yugoslavian capital, then to follow the route of the 9.Panzer-Division, part of General der Panzertruppe Georg Stumme's XL Panzer Corps. The LSSAH crossed the border near Bitola and was soon deep in Greek territory.

The LSSAH captured Vevi on 10 April. SS-Sturmbannführer Kurt Meyer's reinforced Aufklärungs-Abteilung (reconnaissance battalion), LSSAH was tasked with clearing resistance from the Kleisoura Pass south-west of Vevi and driving through to the Kastoria area to cut off retreating Greek and British Commonwealth forces. [47] Despite stiff resistance, Meyer's unit captured the pass. [47]

The brigade participated in the clearing the Klidi Pass just south of Vevi, which was defended by a "scratch force" of Greek, Australian, British and New Zealand troops. An Australian artillery officer wrote of the Germans' "insolence" in driving "trucks down the main road – to within 3,000 yards (2,700 m) of our infantry" and there unloading the troops. The Germans were forced off the road by artillery fire and faced fierce resistance for more than two days. On the morning of 12 April the Germans renewed their attack, and by late afternoon the pass was cleared. [48]

With the fall of the two passes the main line of resistance of the Greek Epirus army was broken, and the campaign became a battle to prevent the escape of the enemy. On 20 April, following a pitched battle in the 5,000-foot-high (1,500 m) Metsovon Pass in the Pindus Mountains, the commander of the Greek Epirus army surrendered the entire force to Dietrich. British Commonwealth troops were now the only Allied forces remaining in Greece, and they were falling back across the Corinth Canal to the Peloponnesos. By 26 April the LSSAH had reached the Gulf of Patras, and in an effort to cut off the retreating British Commonwealth forces, Dietrich ordered that his regiment cross the Gulf and secure the town of Patras in the Peloponnesos. Since no transport vessels were available, the LSSAH commandeered fishing boats and successfully completed the crossing, but were forced to leave much of their heavy equipment behind. By 30 April the last British Commonwealth troops had either been captured or escaped. The LSSAH occupied a position of honor in the victory parade through Athens. After Operation Marita, the LSSAH was ordered north to join the forces of Army Group South massing for the launch of Operation Barbarossa. [49]

Following LSSAH's outstanding performance during Marita, Himmler ordered that it should be upgraded to divisional status. [49] The regiment, already the size of a reinforced brigade, was to be given motorized transport and redesignated "SS-Division (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler". It was moved to Czechoslovakia in mid May for reorganization until being ordered to assemble in Poland [50] for Operation Barbarossa, as part of Gerd von Rundstedt's, Army Group South. There was not enough time to deliver all its equipment and refit it to full divisional status before the launch of the invasion of the Soviet Union, so the new "division" remained the size of a reinforced brigade, even though its expansion and development was of concern at the very highest ranks of command. Franz Halder, chief of the OKH General Staff noted on 20 June that "SS 'Adolf Hitler' will not be ready in time. Tracked components leave on 22 June, others not before 25 June," then more hopefully the next day "Materiel position of SS 'Adolf Hitler' has improved, Div. may yet get ready in time." [51]

Despite Halder's hopes, LSSAH was held in reserve attached to XIV Panzer Corps [50] as part of Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group during the opening stages of the attack. Through July it was attached to III Panzer Corps before finishing August as part of XLVIII Panzer Corps. [50] During this time, the LSSAH was involved in the Battle of Uman and the subsequent capture of Kiev. According to a postwar report by Waffen-SS journalist Erich Kern, the division murdered 4,000 Soviet prisoners in reprisal on 18 August, after finding the mutilated bodies of six dead divisional members who had been executed at Nowo Danzig, north of Kherson. These allegations have been researched using local units' war diaries no mention of executed German soldiers during those dates has been found. For want of reliable evidence, not even accusations by the Soviet authorities, the allegations remained unproven. [52] [53]

In early September, the division was shifted to LIV Army Corps, as part of the 11th Army under Eugen Ritter von Schobert during the advance east after the fall of Kiev. Hoping to capitalize on the collapse of the Red Army defense on the Dnepr River the reconnaissance battalion of LSSAH was tasked with making a speedy advance to capture the strategically vital choke point of the Perekop Isthmus through a "coup de main" but were rebuffed by entrenched defenders at the town of Perekop. [54] That same day, 12 September, 11th Army's commander was killed in an aircraft accident, and Hitler appointed Erich von Manstein to command. It took five days for Manstein to take matters in hand, and the operation to clear the Crimean Peninsula was not launched until 17 September. Manstein deployed LSSAH to create diversions while preparing for the main assault, intending to employ it to exploit an eventual breakthrough, but was forced to throw pioneers into the attack on the "Tatar Ditch" in the face of a furious counterattacks and did not break the Soviet defense for ten days. [55]

In October, the LSSAH was transferred back north to help solidify the Axis line against fresh Soviet attacks against the Romanian 3rd Army and later took part in the heavy fighting for the city of Rostov-on-Don, which was captured in late November there, the LSSAH took over 10,000 Red Army prisoners. However by the end of the year, the German advance faltered as Soviet resistance grew stronger. [47]

Under pressure from heavy Soviet counterattacks during the winter, the LSSAH and Army Group South retreated from Rostov to defensive lines on the river Mius. [47] After the spring rasputitsa (seasonal mud) had cleared, the division joined in Fall Blau, participating in the fighting to retake Rostov-on-Don, which fell in late July 1942. Severely understrength, the LSSAH was transferred to the Normandy region of occupied France to join the newly formed SS Panzer Corps and to be reformed as a Panzergrenadier division. [56]

Kharkov Edit

The LSSAH spent the remainder of 1942 refitting as a panzergrenadier division. Thanks to the efforts of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, along with SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser, the SS Panzer Corps commander, the three SS Panzergrenadier divisions, LSSAH, Das Reich and Totenkopf, were to be formed with a full regiment of tanks rather than only a Battalion. This meant that the SS Panzergrenadier divisions were full-strength Panzer divisions in all but name. The division also received nine Tiger 1 tanks, and these were formed into the 13th (schwere) Company/1st SS Panzer Regiment. [56]

The collapse of the front around Stalingrad and the encirclement of the German Sixth Army created a threat to General Feldmarschall Erich von Manstein's Army Group Don. Manstein requested reinforcements to halt the Soviet attack near Kharkov. The SS Panzer Corps was then ordered east to join Manstein's forces. [56]

Arriving at the front in late January 1943, the LSSAH was engaged in fighting in and around Kharkov as a part of Hausser's SS Panzer Corps. [56] In March 1943 the division participated in the recapture of Kharkov. On 12 March 1943, the LSSAH made progress into the city's center by breaking through the Soviet defenses in the northern suburbs. By the end of the day, the division had reached a position just two blocks north of Dzerzhinsky Square. [57] The 2nd Panzergrenadier Regiment's 2nd Battalion was able to surround the square, after taking heavy casualties from Soviet snipers and other defenders, by evening. When taken, the square was renamed "Platz der Leibstandarte". [58] Despite the declaration that the city had fallen, fighting continued on 15 and 16 March, as German units cleared the remnants of resistance in the tractor works factory complex, in the southern outskirts of the city. The city was taken on 17 March. [59] While in Kharkov, troops of the LSSAH engaged in the murder of wounded Soviet soldiers that were located in the city's military hospital several hundred were killed. Additionally, captured Soviet officers and commissars were routinely executed. [60]

The division was pulled back to rest and refit. Division commander Sepp Dietrich was promoted to form a new Corps, the 1st SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte, and the LSSAH was to supply all the senior officers for the new headquarters. At the same time a new SS division would be formed from members of the Hitler Youth and the LSSAH would supply all of the regimental, battalion and most of the company commanders. This new division would become the 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitlerjugend). [61]

Massacre of civilians on the Eastern Front Edit

During the fighting around Kharkov, a unit under the command of Joachim Peiper gained a nickname "Blowtorch Battalion", after the inhabitants of two Soviet villages were shot or burned. [62] [63] [64] Ukrainian sources, including surviving witness Ivan Kiselev, who was 14 at the time of the massacre, described the killings at the villages of Yefremovka and Semyonovka on 17 February 1943. On 12 February Waffen-SS troops of the LSSAH occupied the two villages, where retreating Soviet forces had wounded two SS officers. In retaliation, five days later LSSAH troops killed 872 men, women and children. Some 240 of these were burned alive in the church of Yefremovka. [65]

The reputation of the "Blowtorch Battalion" was confirmed in August 1944, when Sturmbannführer Jacob Hanreich was captured south of Falaise in France and interrogated by the Allies. He stated that Peiper was "particularly eager to execute the order to burn villages". Hanreich had previously served with Leibstandarte but was with SS Division Hitlerjugend at the time of his capture. [66]

Additional sources support the division's reputation for brutality. The following statement, taken from the surreptitious recording of POWs' conversations by the Allies, describes the atrocities on the Eastern Front. SS-Untersturmführer Krämer (captured on the Western Front during his service with the SS Division Hitlerjugend) recounted the following from his time with the LSSAH: [67]

I have experienced it in Russia at Orel. An MG 42 was set up in the main aisle of a church, [. ] and the Russian men, women and children were taken into the church, without knowing at all what was happening. Then they were shot immediately with the MG 42 and petrol was poured on them and the whole place was set on fire.

Fabrikaktion Operation Edit

Elements of LSSAH took part in Fabrikaktion "factory action" a/k/a/ Großaktion Juden "Major Action (on) Jews", an operation to capture remaining German Jews that worked in the arms industry. Men of the LSSAH helped the Gestapo round up Jews in Berlin people were taken from their jobs and herded in to cattle wagons on 27–28 February 1943. Most of the captured perished either in Auschwitz or other camps in the East. [68] [69] [70] In May 1943, Hans Frank shipped 500 watches collected from Auschwitz prisoners to soldiers of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf. [71]

The spring rasputitsa halted offensive operations, giving the LSSAH time to rest and refit. By early June 1943, the division had been fully refitted and was now under the command of SS-Brigadeführer, Theodor Wisch. [72] Its armor strength was 12 Tiger Is, 72 Panzer IVs, 16 Panzer III and Panzer IIs, and 31 StuGs. In late June 1943, the formation of I SS Panzer Corps meant that Hausser's SS Panzer Corps was renamed II SS Panzer Corps. [73]

The II SS Panzer Corps was moved north to Belgorod in preparation for the upcoming summer offensive Operation Citadel. The LSSAH, along with the SS Divisions Totenkopf and Das Reich, was to form the spearhead of General Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, tasked with breaching the southern flank of the Kursk salient. Field Marshal Walter Model's 9th Army was to breach the northern flank, and the two forces were to meet near the city of Kursk, to the east, thereby encircling a large Soviet force.

The attack commenced on 5 July. The LSSAH's panzers, advancing in Panzerkeils (wedges), soon ran into the elaborate defenses of the Red Army, which slowed the advance. By 9 July, the II SS Panzer Corps had advanced 48 km (30 mi) north, and were nearing the small town of Prokhorovka. The LSSAH again took the lead by now its strength was reduced to just 77 armored vehicles. The 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, supported by several tanks, advanced up the road to Prokhorovka against heavy resistance. By midday, the infantry had cleared the Komsomolets State Farm and begun the attack on Hill 241.6, which they secured shortly after nightfall on 10 July.

The next day the advance resumed, with the division capturing Oktiabr'skii State Farm and Hill 252.2 in heavy fighting against Soviet Paratroops of the 9th Guards Airborne Division. On 12 July, the Soviets threw the 5th Guards Tank Army into a counterattack near Prokhorovka. Two tank corps faced the LSSAH, hitting the Germans around Oktiabr'skii State Farm and Hill 252.2. In the ensuing fighting, the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets. The Soviet counterattack had stalled the German advance, and the division was forced to fall back to Oktiabr'skii. The Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army lost 300 tanks destroyed and further 300 damaged on 12 July. [ citation needed ] Fighting continued the next day, but the focus of the Soviet attack had then shifted to the Totenkopf, on the left of the LSSAH.

With the battle at Prokhorovka still in the balance, Soviet High Command launched an offensive of their own, Operation Kutuzov, near Orel causing Hitler to order the cessation of Citadel. The II SS Panzer Corps was pulled back. The LSSAH was ordered out of the line, having suffered 2,753 casualties including 474 killed. [72] Eleven tanks were also lost during Citadel. The division was sent to Italy to help stabilize the situation there caused by the deposal of Benito Mussolini by the Badoglio government and the Allied invasion of Sicily which began on the night of 9–10 July 1943. The division left behind its heavy equipment, which was given to Das Reich and Totenkopf. [74]

The division, re-equipped with vehicles, arrived on the Po River Plain on 8 August 1943. The LSSAH was given the task of guarding several vital road and rail junctions in the area of Trento-Verona. After several weeks, the division was moved to the Parma-Reggio area. During this period, the Leibstandarte was involved in several skirmishes with partisans. With Italy having announced an armistice with the Allies of 8 September 1943, the division was ordered to begin disarming nearby Italian units. [74] This went smoothly, with the exception of brief, bloody fights with Italian troops stationed in Parma, Cremona and Piacenza on 9 September. By 19 September, all Italian forces in the Po River Plain had been disarmed. [74]

While on rear security duties in Italy, LSSAH men murdered 49 Jewish refugees near Lake Maggiore, in the Lake Maggiore massacres, who had fled there after the German takeover. [75] The murders happened between 15 and 24 September. Some of the victims had their feet and hands tied and were drowned. [76]

The LSSAH was sent to the Istria Peninsula and was engaged in several anti-partisan operations as part of Nazi security warfare. During its period in Italy, the LSSAH was reformed as a full panzer division, and redesignated 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. [74] In early November, the division was ordered back to the Eastern Front, arriving in the Zhitomir area in mid-November. [74]

The division was assigned to XLVIII Panzer Corps, a part of 4th Panzer Army, which was struggling to hold the line near Zhitomir. [77] The division was transferred to the Cherkassy area at the end of January, where it was assigned to the III Panzer Corps, part of 1st Panzer Army. As part of the corps, the division took part in the relief attempt of German forces of Army Group South encircled in the Korsun Pocket in January–February 1944.

The majority of the LSSAH, which amounted to 41 officers and 1,188 men, were withdrawn to Belgium for rest and refit, [77] however a Kampfgruppe was left behind. On 25 March, the 1st Panzer Army was encircled in the Kamenets-Podolsky pocket. The battle group took part in the fighting to escape the encirclement, forming a part of the spearhead which linked up with the II SS Panzer Corps near Buczacz on 6 April. [77] The LSSAH Division was reformed in Belgium and was at full strength by 25 April 1944. [78]

The division was transferred again as part of the I SS Panzer Corps which at this time consisted of the 101 SS Heavy Panzer Battalion, SS Division Hitlerjugend, SS Division Götz von Berlichingen and the Panzer Lehr Division. [46] The LSSAH had been positioned north of the River Seine to counter any possible landing in the area of the Pas de Calais so the first units did not arrive in Normandy until after the Allied invasion there on 6 June 1944 part of it arrived on the night of 27–28 June with the whole division taking another week. [79] By 4 July the I SS Panzer Corps was reformed, and now consisted of the LSSAH and the Hitlerjugend. [80] The first action they were involved in was the defense of Carpiquet village and airfield in the Allied Operation Windsor. [81] There then followed a number of Allied attacks – Operations Charnwood and Jupiter. On 12 July the LSSAH was holding the Caen south sector from Maltot in the west to the Caen – Falaise road in the east. [82] During the night of 14 – 15 July, LSSAH was relieved by the 272nd Infantry Division and pulled back to an assembly area astride the Caen – Falaise road between Ifs and Cintheaux. [83]

Operation Goodwood Edit

The British Operation Goodwood took place between 18 and 20 July 1944. British VIII Corps, with three armored divisions, launched the attack aiming to seize the German-held Bourguébus Ridge, along with the area between Bretteville-sur-Laize and Vimont. The operation was preceded by a three-hour bombing by 2,500 aircraft. [84] The Division strength prior to Goodwood was reported as 59 Panzer IVs, 46 Panthers and 35 StuG IIIs. [85]

II/1st SS Panzer Regiment, located near Garcelles, received orders to attack the British at Soliers. While moving its 13 Panthers towards Bourguébus, the unit engaged 60 British tanks, destroying 20 of them and capturing Soliers. Around 12:00, the Panther Battalion, I/1st SS Panzer regiment, was engaged in combat with the British 29th Armoured Brigade of the British 11th Armoured Division. The body of the LSSAH was rushed to the front from Falaise, where it was being held in reserve. It counterattacked at 17:00, together with the 21st Panzer Division, and halted the British offensive on the left front. [86]

The British resumed their assault at around 13:00 on 19 July, having brought up reinforcements to continue the attack. They overran some of the forward German units and approached Bourguébus Ridge at 16:00. They came under fire from Panthers of the Leibstandarte, who had taken up positions on the ridge. Reinforcements of the 12th SS Panzer Division arrived at the right flank at around 15:00. The Canadians attacked next in the Battle of Verrières Ridge and Operation Spring (see map), where the LSSAH came up against a number of Allied divisions, including the Guards Armoured Division, 7th Armoured, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions. [87]

Operation Lüttich Edit

On 25 July 1944, US forces under General Omar Bradley succeeded in breaking through the German defenses as part of Operation Cobra and entered Brittany. [88] [89] Hitler forbade any retreat, and ordered a counteroffensive, codenamed Operation Lüttich, [90] by the XLVII Panzer Corps, consisting of the 2nd Panzer Division, part of the LSSAH, the SS Division Das Reich and the 116th Panzer Division. [91] The plan for the attack was to hit the 30th Infantry Division east of Mortain, then cut through American defenses to reach the coast. [88] The US response was aided by Ultra intelligence, which had revealed the plans for Operation Lüttich by 4 August. [92] As a result, Bradley was able to obtain air support from both the US 9th Air Force and the RAF. [93]

The LSSAH and other divisions went on the attack on 7 August. The 1st SS Panzer Regiment, along with two battalions of motorized infantry, one combat engineer company, and the division's flak battalion, were used for the attack. The weather was not suitable for flying that morning, which disadvantaged the Allies. The SS Division Das Reich recaptured Mortain, and an armored battle group under Joachim Peiper reached Bourlopin, but had to halt due to US counterattacks and air strikes.

The much-reduced division was encircled in the Falaise pocket by US, Canadian, and Polish forces. Some LSSAH units broke out of the pocket on 22 August, leaving behind all their tanks and artillery. The division sustained 5,000 casualties during the Normandy campaign. [94] During their retreat from France, members of the LSSAH and the SS Division Hitlerjugend division murdered 34 French civilians in the towns of Tavaux and Plomion. [95]

Ardennes Offensive Edit

The Ardennes Offensive (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was a major German offensive launched through the forested Ardennes Mountains region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg.. The offensive was called Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein (Operation "Watch on the Rhine") by the Germans. The 'bulge' was the initial incursion the Germans put into the Allies' line of advance, as seen in maps presented in contemporary newspapers. [96] [ page needed ]

Wilhelm Mohnke, now in command of the LSSAH, attached to the I SS Panzer Corps, was the spearhead of the operation. The fuel crisis in Nazi Germany meant that the LSSAH had insufficient amounts of fuel for its vehicles. [97] On 16 December the operation began, with then SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper's Kampfgruppe leading the push to the Meuse. [98]

Malmedy massacre Edit

Peiper bypassed the Elsenborn ridge, and at 07:00 on 17 December, the unit seized a US fuel depot at Büllingen, and refueled before continuing westward. At 12:30, near the hamlet of Baugnez, on the height halfway between the town of Malmedy and Ligneuville, Peiper's Kampfgruppe encountered a convoy of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, US 7th Armored Division. [99] [100] After a brief battle the Americans surrendered. Along with other Americans captured earlier (127 men total), they were disarmed and sent to stand in a field near the crossroads, where the Germans shot them en masse with machine guns and pistols. [101] Of the 84 men killed, 41 were killed by a pistol shot to the head at close range and six were killed by having their skulls bashed in. [102] After feigning death in the field for several hours while the Germans moved among them shooting survivors, a group of about 30 men escaped. [103] Researcher Danny S. Parker believe that Peiper or one of his subordinates made the decision to kill the prisoners. [104] There is no record of an SS officer giving an execution order. [105] News of the killings raced through the Allied lines. [106] Captured SS men who were part of Kampfgruppe Peiper were tried during the Malmedy massacre trial following the war for this massacre and several others in the area. Many of the perpetrators were sentenced to hang, but the sentences were commuted. Peiper himself was imprisoned for eleven years for his role in the killings. [104]

Peiper entered Stavelot on 18 December but encountered fierce resistance from the American defenders. Unable to defeat them, he left a smaller support force in town and headed for the bridge at Trois-Ponts with the bulk of his strength, but by the time he reached it, retreating US engineers had already destroyed it. Peiper then headed for the village of La Gleize and from there on to Stoumont. There, as Peiper approached, engineers blew up the bridge. US defenders were entrenched and ready. Peiper's men were cut off from the main German force and supplies when the Americans recaptured the poorly defended Stavelot on 19 December. As their situation in Stoumont was becoming hopeless, Peiper decided to pull back to La Gleize where he set up his defenses, waiting for the German relief force. Since no such force was able to penetrate the US line, Peiper decided to break out back to the German lines on 23 December. The men of the Kampfgruppe abandoned their vehicles and heavy equipment, although most of the men were able to escape.

With each passing day, enemy resistance stiffened and the advance was eventually halted on all fronts. The German High Command ordered that a renewed attack begin on 1 January 1945. Yet by this time, the Allies had regrouped their forces and were ready to repulse any attack launched by the Germans. The operation formally ended on 27 January 1945, and three days later Mohnke was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer. LSSAH and the I SS Panzer Corps were then transferred to Hungary to bolster the crumbling situation there. Mohnke was wounded in an air raid. [107] In his place, SS-Brigadeführer Otto Kumm was appointed the new Division Commander as of 15 February 1945. [107]

Killing of Wereth 11 Edit

During Battle of the Bulge, troops from 3./SS-PzAA1 LSSAH captured eleven African-American soldiers from the 333rd Artillery Battalion in the hamlet of Wereth. Subsequently the prisoners were shot and their remains found by Allied troops two months later. The soldiers had their fingers cut off, legs broken, and at least one was shot while trying to bandage a comrade's wounds. [108]

Operation Spring Awakening Edit

Operation Spring Awakening (6 March 1945 – 16 March 1945) was the last major German offensive launched during World War II. It began in great secrecy on 6 March 1945. The German forces launched attacks in Hungary near Lake Balaton. This area included some of the last oil reserves still available to the Axis. The operation involved many German units withdrawn from the failed Ardennes Offensive on the Western Front, including the 6th SS Panzer Army and the LSSAH. Operation Spring Awakening was a failure for the German side. Within a week, the early gains were halted by massive counter-attacks by Soviet forces. The overwhelming numerical superiority of the Red Army made any defense impossible, yet Hitler somehow had believed victory was attainable. [109]

After the failure of Operation Spring Awakening, Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army retreated in stages to the Vienna area. The Germans prepared defensive positions in an attempt to hold the city against the fast arriving Red Army, in what become known as the Vienna Offensive. The Germans could not hold Vienna, which fell to the Soviet forces on 13 April. [110]

This defeat resulted in the Ärmelstreifen (Cuff Titles Order) or "armband order", which was issued by Hitler to the commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army, Sepp Dietrich. Hitler claimed that the troops "did not fight as the situation demanded." [110] As a mark of disgrace, Hitler ordered the Waffen-SS units involved to remove their cuff titles (German: Ärmelstreifen). Dietrich refused to carry out the order and did not relay the message to the troops. [111] According to Heinz Guderian, most cuff titles had already been removed he later wrote that the removal of unit cuffs from the Leibstandarte, Totenkopf, Hohenstaufen, and the Das Reich Divisions was accomplished for security reasons. [112]

Battle of Berlin Edit

Part of the LSSAH ended the war fighting in Berlin. On 23 April 1945, Hitler appointed Brigadeführer Mohnke the commander for the central government district (Zitadelle sector) that included the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker. [113] Mohnke's command post was under the Reich Chancellery in the bunkers therein. He formed Kampfgruppe Mohnke which was divided into two weak regiments made up of approximately 2,000 men. [114] The core group were the 800 of the Leibstandarte Guard Battalion (assigned to guard the Führer). [115] After Hitler's suicide, they received orders to break out. Prior to the attempt, Mohnke briefed all commanders who could be reached within the Zitadelle sector about Hitler's death and the planned break out. [116] It started at 2300 hours on 1 May. Mohnke led the first of ten small groups. [117] Several very small groups managed to reach the Americans at the Elbe's west bank, but most, including Mohnke's group, could not get through the Soviet lines. Many were taken prisoner and some committed suicide. On 2 May hostilities officially ended by order of Helmuth Weidling, Commandant of the Berlin Defense Area. [118]

After Vienna was captured, the LSSAH had fewer than 1,600 men and 16 tanks. [119] Apart from the remains of Berlin Guard Battalion, the LSSAH surrendered to US forces in the Steyr area on 8 May 1945. [120]


Fine line between tolerance and clichés

Four years earlier in 1916, the American director DW Griffith had created the monumental historical film,"Intolerance." The story explains historical events over the course of four episodes, taking intolerance to task. Yet in a scene showing the crucifixion of Jesus, Griffith employed Jewish stereotypes. As a result, critics have also accused "Intolerance" of demonstrating anti-Semitic tendencies.

Anti-Semitism in film before and after the Holocaust


Hitler’s Personal Army: The Role of the German Waffen-SS in World War Two - History

By Christopher Miskimon

In the predawn hours of April 24, 1945, SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg received orders from Army Group Vistula defending Berlin to immediately lead the remnants of the 57th Battalion of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne from its staging area at the SS training camp at Neustrelitz to the German capital.

Krukenberg’s orders called for him to report to the Reich Chancellery for further orders upon arrival in the besieged city. He then awoke Hauptsturmführer Henri Fenet, commander of Sturmbataillon Charlemagne, as the 57th Battalion also was known. Krukenberg instructed Fenet to assemble his men so that Krukenberg could address them. Attired in a gray leather greatcoat, Krukenberg asked for volunteers to go with him to fight the Red Army in Berlin. This would be their last battle.

Although most of the troops wanted to go, just 90 were chosen because there were only a handful of vehicles available to transport them. They set out at 8:30 amin two half-tracks and three heavy trucks. Krukenberg led the convoy along back roads through pine forests where possible to avoid being strafed by marauding Soviet fighters.

Because Soviet forces were blocking the northern entrances into Berlin, the convoy had to take a circuitous route into the bombed-out city. Entering the city from the west, they passed columns of retreating German troops. Some of the retreating Germans taunted them by shouting that they were going the wrong way. Others tapped the sides of their heads to convey that they believed the Charlemagne soldiers were crazy to be heading into battle rather than away from it. The convoy had to navigate its way around barricades and through rubble-choked streets to reach its destination. At 10 pmthe convoy stopped for the night at the Olympiastadion on the east bank of the Havel River in the western section of the city.

Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler reviews troops from Ukrainian SS Division Galizien. Many joined in the belief that they were fighting for Ukraine’s eventual independence.

While the Charlemagne troops rummaged for refreshments of any sort in a Luftwaffe supply depot, Krukenberg made his way to the Reich Chancellery. He received orders from General of Artillery Helmuth Weidling to take command of Defense Sector C in southeast Berlin. To defend the sector, Krukenberg would have the volunteers of Sturmbataillon Charlemagne, the remnants of two regiments of the 11th SS Panzergrenadier Nordland Division, and whatever other soldiers Weidling’s staff could scrape together.

The Waffen-SS soldiers of the Charlemagne and Nordland Divisions were willing to fight to the death with other troops of the so-called Berlin Garrison, not because they were ardent Nazis, but rather because they were vehemently anti-Bolshevist. Their last stand in the streets of Berlin was made in the face of insurmountable odds against which any sort of victory was utterly impossible.

The foreign Waffen-SS units of Nazi Germany were an outgrowth of the native German Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS organization has attained near-mythic status in the annals of World War II history. The organization began as part of the Nazi Party’s private security apparatus known as the Schutzstaffel. The soldiers in the unit furnished security at Nazi Party functions.

SS Obergruppenfuhrer Gottlob Berger spearheaded the recruiting of Waffen SS volunteers from conquered countries in Europe.

The SS expanded in the wake of Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Shortly afterward, the organization comprised three distinct branches. The first branch was the Allgemeine, or General SS, which oversaw administrative and policing functions. The second branch was SS-Totenkopfverbande, the Death’s Head Units, which operated concentration and extermination camps.

The third branch was the Waffen-SS, meaning Armed SS. This part began as a small armed force loyal only to Hitler. The Waffen-SS later expanded into a major military organization. Although the lines were not always clear between the three branches, it was the Waffen-SS that was equipped for war and eventually deployed for battle.

A dichotomy exists in the popular conception of the Waffen-SS. On one side, they are viewed as criminals who killed prisoners, massacred civilians, and showed little mercy. Indeed, SS troops were guilty of all these behaviors. On the other side, they are seen as modern knights and regarded as patriots who fought for their country against the scourge of Bolshevism. In this sympathetic portrait, they are painted as superbly trained and equipped soldiers who inflicted heavy casualties on their battlefield opponents.

The latter view of the Waffen-SS is flawed for two reasons. First, it endorses Nazi propaganda, which presented SS troops as elite for political and recruiting purposes. Second, most existing first-hand accounts of the Waffen-SS in action were written by SS soldiers. Like many accounts penned by soldiers, there is always the temptation to embellish their achievements. As defeated soldiers serving a criminal regime, their memoirs often seek to justify their service on patriotic grounds or to deny that any atrocious conduct occurred. Many SS veterans worked tirelessly after the war to repair the Waffen-SS’s tarnished reputation. Whatever the individual member’s actions or conduct, the Waffen-SS served a government guilty of extensive and pervasive criminal behavior and, therefore, is forever tainted by that association.

Yet SS lore also omits the fact that many of the men who served in the Waffen-SS were not German citizens. By war’s end, there were numerically more non-Germans serving in the Waffen-SS than natural-born Germans. The Waffen-SS leadership recruited and fielded entire divisions along ethnic lines. In the latter part of World War II, all regular SS divisions had some foreign soldiers assigned to them. Of the 38 Waffen-SS divisions, 21 were raised with non-Germans as their primary personnel.

The entry of foreign citizens into the Waffen-SS began early in the war. The recruitment of volunteers for the Waffen-SS outside the borders of Nazi Germany was part of SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler’s dream of a pan-European army for the Third Reich. He conceived as early as 1938 the concept of recruiting men of sufficiently Germanic heritage and blood for the Waffen-SS.

A poster in Dutch exhorts Waffen SS recruits from the Netherlands to join the fight against Bolshevism.

The success of the Wehrmacht in the first years of the war placed this dream within reach. As the Nazis conquered and occupied Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France in 1940, millions of Western Europeans came under their dominion. These were exactly the captive populations Himmler wanted for recruiting his European Waffen-SS.

Himmler assigned SS Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger to assist in this effort. Berger, a decorated World War I veteran, joined the brown-shirted Nazi Party paramilitary organization known as the Sturmabteilung (SA) in 1930. An arrogant and belligerent individual, Berger was roundly disliked by the majority of the SA membership. He transferred to the SS in 1936 and subsequently became its chief of recruitment. An advocate for the addition of foreign volunteers, he played an instrumental role in the expansion of the SS.

After the outbreak of war on September 1, 1939, non-German membership in the Waffen-SS grew in importance. The Waffen-SS and the Wehrmacht competed for recruits. The Wehrmacht had an edge in the recruitment race because it could restrict the number of volunteers who could enter the SS.

Berger realized it was going to be difficult to bring in enough replacements to keep the existing SS units at sufficient strength, much less create new formations. At that time, the SS did not have a reserve system like the Wehrmacht’s that funneled new recruits into combat divisions.

The Wehrmacht, though, did not control two groups of potential recruits. One group was the Volksdeutsche. These were individuals of German descent who had settled throughout Europe in the preceding centuries. The Nazis regarded the Volksdeutsche as ethnically German. Their language and culture had German origins, but they were not German citizens.

The other group was composed of individuals who looked Germanic. This group included those of Nordic descent who were Teutonic enough to serve in the military forces of Nazi Germany. This group included Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Dutch, Belgian Flemings, and Swiss from the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland.

Once the Nazis had occupied these countries, it became easier to recruit within their borders. This put Himmler’s dream of an Aryan European army within reach. Although Hitler considered the Third Reich as an entirely German and Austrian endeavor, Himmler thought in terms of ethnicities rather than strict national borders.

Volunteer foreign SS units were designated either as legion or free corps. Soldiers of the Danish Free Corps parade with their flag in Germany in 1941.

Berger moved quickly. The first Waffen-SS recruiting offices in the occupied countries were established in June 1940. Berger had made contact before the war with various right-wing groups throughout Western Europe this sped the recruiting process. The Waffen-SS soon had offices in Oslo, Copenhagen, Antwerp, and The Hague. Since Sweden and Switzerland were officially neutral, German embassies in those nations worked quietly with right-wing groups to gather recruits.

Berger’s optimism for the rapid creation of a multinational Waffen-SS was soon dashed. Few men appeared at the recruiting stations. Those who did show up were often treated as collaborators by their countrymen. They had different motivations for volunteering. Some were dedicated Nazi sympathizers or simply Germanophiles. They wanted to join the seemingly unstoppable Nazi juggernaut. Others enlisted for more mundane reasons, such as to escape poverty. For the impoverished, the Waffen-SS offered the promise of warm barracks and hot meals.

It was a myth that all SS men were volunteers. Recruiters deliberately misled some enlistees regarding what they would be doing. For example, a group of Danish men were told that they were going to Germany to participate in political and athletic training. Similarly, 500 Flemish factory workers employed by the Germans in northern France volunteered for work in Poland under the pretense of higher pay. These men discovered upon arrival that they had been whisked into the Waffen-SS.

Waffen-SS recruiters were instructed to turn a blind eye to volunteers who were awaiting criminal prosecution in their countries or who were known juvenile delinquents. Berger believed that criminals made outstanding soldiers—if one knew how to handle them. He said that he knew some of the recruits would be less than ideal and would join for other than ideological reasons. He dismissed these concerns on the grounds that these were age-old recruiting problems for all nations.

The 5th SS Viking Division saw heavy action during Germany’s fighting withdrawal on the Eastern Front from 1943-1945.

Recruitment increased in many areas in the wake of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Men who were not committed Nazis, but instead staunch anticommunists, enlisted in the hope of eradicating the threat that Bolshevism posed to Western Europe.

“I joined the Waffen-SS to help the Finns,” said Asbjorn Narmo, a member of the Norwegian Waffen-SS. “I wanted to go earlier to help them fight the Russians, but they wouldn’t let me. So when the Germans said they would send volunteers there, I enlisted.”

Narmo joined a specialized company of ski troops and fought alongside the Finns in the so-called Continuation War, a portion of the fighting on the vast Eastern Front. The Continuation War had begun just 15 months after the conclusion of the Winter War in which the Soviets had tried to annex part of Finland’s eastern frontier.

The SS leadership formed these early volunteers into several new regiments that grouped recruits of similar national heritage into the same unit. The first two regiments were named Westland and the Nordland. The Waffen-SS Regiment Westland was composed of Netherlanders and Belgian Flemings. The Nordland Regiment was composed of recruits from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

None of these regiments reached its projected manpower goals, though. The SS leadership added Germans to the regiments to bring them to full strength. These units were combined with SS Infantry Regiment Germania and designated the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking. Yet despite their best efforts, less than 10 percent of the recruits in the unit were foreign nationals when it took part in Operation Barbarossa.

The Nazis also began recruiting new nation-based SS units, in an effort to boost the numbers of volunteers through a sense of national identity. SS leadership generally designated these units as either “legion” or “free corps” to reflect that their members were volunteers. Most of these units numbered 1,000 volunteers, which was slightly more than made up a standard Wehrmacht infantry battalion. The small units could hardly be expected to have a real influence on a theater of war as vast as the Eastern Front, given that 3.8 million Axis troops participated in Operation Barbarossa.

Soldiers of the 14th Waffen SS Grenadier Division Galizien in winter camouflage man a 50mm anti-tank gun on the Eastern Front in 1944.

The Germans used these national units later in the war to form the nucleus of new SS divisions as the need for new combat formations became desperate. A new division was usually brought up to strength with whatever personnel were available. Under such conditions, any semblance of national or cultural identity was superficial at best.

The training of the new units became another point of contention. Most of their instruction came from German Waffen-SS cadre. The recruits complained of poor treatment. Their complaints were not about the rigorous training, but rather about the abuse and dismissive attitude they encountered. A number of high-ranking Waffen-SS officers stepped in to stop these abuses, but they were never completely successful.

Most of the newly established Waffen-SS foreign units did not fare well on the Eastern Front. The SS leadership attributed their poor performance to inferior leadership. But the real reason was a lack of proper training and equipment. The Wehrmacht generals looked with disdain upon the Waffen-SS. They viewed them not as elite soldiers, but instead as poorly trained fanatics who achieved their objectives at a high cost in casualties. Often they did not receive the same standard of training as Wehrmacht units.

Despite the Waffen-SS having more than its share of the training and other problems common to any military force, it saw its share of fighting. Ivar Corneliussen, a Danish volunteer in the Westland Regiment, recalled the hard fighting in the Ukraine. “I saw a Cossack attack with my own eyes, all of them on horseback and waving their sabres,” he said. “They charged towards us, it was madness, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We mowed them down, dozens and dozens of them. It was just slaughter, the machine guns shredded them.” He said that when it was all over, the Danes went out onto the steppe and shot the wounded horses to put them out of their misery.

When Germany turned its attention to the East, it opened up entirely new recruiting possibilities for the Waffen-SS, for there were untapped areas of Volksdeutsche scattered throughout Eastern Europe. Himmler and Berger recruited them and formed them into new units. They recruited heavily among the ethnic Germans in Romania and Hungary. Since these countries were key Axis allies, however, they naturally recruited their citizens to serve in their own armies. To circumvent this, Waffen-SS recruiters went so far as to hide Romanian recruits among German units. Thus, when the German unit moved out of the country, the recruits went with it.

Soldiers from 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugene with capture partisans in Croatia. The 7th SS was built around a core of Serbian volunteers.

Occupied countries, as opposed to allied countries, were different propositions altogether. In the case of Yugoslavia, the Nazis took advantage of the country’s long-standing ethnic and religious tensions to recruit as many troops as possible.

Himmler ardently pushed for the creation of an SS division in Yugoslavia to combat partisans. The Serbs were formed into an SS-led militia force that became the nucleus of the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen. But like most foreign-based Waffen SS divisions, there were not enough recruits to fill its ranks.

Himmler, who feared that Hitler would withdraw his support for the unit if it could not be fully manned, ordered his subordinates to use coercion to complete the task. His henchmen began covertly conscripting men. This occurred among the Volksdeutsche throughout the rest of the war, thus ending the pretense of the Waffen-SS as an all-volunteer organization.

Fez-wearing troops of the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS (Handschar) in formation. Its Bosnian Muslim troops allegedly committed atrocities against civilians.

New recruits also came from German-occupied territories in the Soviet Union. Many Latvians, Estonians, and Ukrainians, themselves unwilling subjects of Stalin’s empire, joined the Waffen-SS out of a desire to prevent the communists from returning to their countries. Even the German Waffen-SS leadership realized these men had no real love for either Germany or for Nazi doctrine, but instead hoped to garner privileges for their homelands in postwar Europe should Germany win. Although these units were often used against partisans, they also saw action on the front lines.

Oskars Perro, a Latvian volunteer assigned to a special-employment unit of the Waffen-SS, found himself in the Novgorod town of Kholm in January 1942. He was part of a 15-man detachment sent to Kholm for antipartisan work. Before this assignment, Perro’s unit was attached to Einsatzgruppe A, one of the death squads that conducted mass executions of Jews and other groups in German-occupied Europe.

In the predawn hours of January 18, a Soviet partisan force attacked the town, which was defended by a mixed group of German rear-echelon personnel. Perro and his fellow SS men were sleeping on beds of straw in a school building when the sharp crack of a rifle shot woke them. They heard shouting outside and quickly took up arms. Each man took his position at a window. Perro heard machine guns chattering in the distance and the muffled crump of grenades exploding in the deep snow. After the attack, Perro’s squad walked to the center of town. They found before them the bodies of slain partisans. There were also several dead German sentries with knife wounds in their backs, indicating that partisans had succeeded in infiltrating German lines to carry out retaliatory attacks.

The 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division remained in Yugoslavia, where it fought Tito’s partisans from late 1942 on. The unit, which was equipped with obsolete or captured weapons and commanded by German officers and NCOs, engaged in operations marked by brutality. They gave no quarter, and neither did their opponents. The division was not remembered for its combat prowess, but instead for the atrocities it committed.

The Prinz Eugen Division performed badly in its first confrontations with the Red Army in mid-1944. Although a few of its soldiers received decorations for valor, these were generally ethnic Germans rather than non-German troops. Once the tide of war had turned in favor of the Russians, the Balkan soldiers began deserting in droves.

Two other Waffen SS divisions raised in the Balkans became infamous as a result of their atrocities. The 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS (Handschar) was created in the spring of 1943. It was composed of Bosnian Muslims, a seemingly odd choice for the race-sensitive Nazis. It was a deliberate choice, though. Most of the communist partisans came from Christian areas. The Nazis deliberately exploited the simmering racial hatreds of the region. This was perhaps the only division with an excess of recruits, because the local Muslims wanted an opportunity to strike at their lifelong enemies. Members of the unit wore a patch with a scimitar over a swastika on their collar instead of the typical SS lightning bolt runes. They also wore the fez as their headgear. They donned a gray fez for service in the field, and they wore a red one for their dress uniform. An SS Death’s Head insignia adorned the fez.

The Handschar was trained in France, where some of the soldiers mutinied and killed their German officers. The Germans executed some of the ringleaders in retaliation and sent others to concentration camps. The Handschar went into action against partisans in early 1944 and quickly gained a reputation for brutality. By the end of the year, the division had suffered thousands of desertions and was soon disbanded. The SS leadership sent the remaining Bosnians to labor units. The reliable German elements of the division were transferred to other Waffen-SS units.

The other unit formed in the region was the 24th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS (Karstjager). The Karstjager was formed primarily of Volksdeutsche from Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, and the Ukraine. It started as a battalion and was later expanded to a division in the summer of 1944, although in reality it was never larger than a brigade.

The Karstjager Division first operated against partisans in northern Italy and in Dalmatia after that, it was sent to North Africa, where it contended with the British 8th Army. While it fought hard against the British, the Karstjager never became infamous for the types of atrocities committed by the other Balkan-raised units unlike those formations, it retained a reputation for reliability and esprit de corps. What was left of the Karstjager Division surrendered to the British in May 1945.

While the Waffen-SS divisions in the Balkans were fighting partisans, other foreign-born SS troops were fighting and dying on the Eastern Front. As with the enlistment of Bosnian Muslims, the SS leadership relaxed other racial rules. As the war progressed, Waffen-SS divisions became for the most part mixed units.

Russian soldiers advance past a dead German soldier during the last battle in Berlin. The Russians struck the Germans defending Berlin with massed artillery, armor, and infantry that unnerved even the battle-hardened foreign-born Waffen SS troops who volunteered to defend the city.

When the soldiers of the SS Nordland Division were sent to the Balkans to refit, they found no respite. Instead, they found themselves heavily engaged against Tito’s partisans, with brutality against the enemy becoming a routine occurrence. By 1945 most German units, whether Wehrmacht or SS, were fighting not only to hold off the Soviets a little longer but also for simple survival.

In mid-March 1945 the Germans formed elements of various SS units into a battle group to defend the Hungarian village of Sored from a Soviet attack. Hans Geissendorf, an officer of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf’s Sturmgeschutz battalion, witnessed the futile struggle of his SS soldiers. Having run out of ammunition for their various weapons, the SS soldiers resorted to using their knives and entrenching tools to defend themselves.

Russians emerged from foxholes 50 yards away. They offered the Germans an opportunity to surrender. When the Germans declined the offer, the Russians attacked in force. Waves of communist soldiers advanced, supported by Soviet heavy tanks. A reconstituted battalion of the Nordland Division, which subsequently had been attached to the Wiking Division, accompanied the assault gun battalion.

“The Danes of Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark fought heroically,” said Geissendorf. “I was with our Sturmgeschutz at the outskirts of the town with an infantry squad. In the midst of this inferno, a messenger came and yelled out that it was over and we should attempt to escape towards the West.”

The reason for this was that other assault guns had become mired in the sodden fields west of the town. The assault guns that Geissendorf and his squad accompanied soon became stuck in the soggy terrain, as well. “I blew up our assault gun with a panzerfaust,” Geissendorf said. “We ran for our lives [with] artillery rounds always exploding just in front of us. I saw several officers from both our division and SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark shoot themselves because they could go no further.”

As the Soviets encircled German units in the nearby village of Stuhlweissenburg, the morale of the Wiking Division started to break. Oberführer Karl Ullrich decided to save his division from destruction. He ordered his troops to break out on March 22. This flew in the face of Hitler’s long-standing policy that German forces were not to give ground.

Another German SS division, the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen, fought to keep an escape corridor open for the Wiking troops. Hitler flew into a rage upon learning of the retreat of the Wehrmacht and SS units. Five days later he issued orders that the men of the Hohenstaufen Division were to remove their distinctive armbands that indicated they belonged to an elite division.

The death knell of Nazi Germany came in Berlin. Trapped between advancing Allied armies from the East and West, many Waffen SS units were ordered to Berlin to take part in the what would be the last battle. At this point, virtually all German units were shadows of their former selves, depleted of men and short of weapons, equipment, and fuel. Divisions were by then reduced to battalion strength.

Still, the SS fought on. The bonds shared by its soldiers as the result of having fought side-by-side for years held many of them together. This was true for ethnic Germans, as well as for foreign-born SS troops. They were willing to fight to the finish, in large part, because they had nowhere to go. They could not return to their homelands, and capture by the Soviets meant almost certain death. “Even in the last hopeless days there was no question of laying down our weapons,” said one SS soldier.

Some of the Waffen SS men still felt there was a chance for victory even when the war had only weeks left, believing in the promise of wonder weapons. “We knew important things were going on, that sensational weapons would soon be put into action, and thanks to that, the war would take on a completely new character,” said Erik Wallin, a Swede in the Nordland Division. “We knew that even better things were coming.”

The Red Army forces fighting their way into Berlin found a special way to honor Hitler’s birthday, April 20, 1945. They celebrated the occasion by bombarding the center of Berlin with their long-range artillery.

Hitler flew into one of his last rages two days later when Steiner’s 11th SS Panzer Army, created in the final weeks of the war by Himmler, failed to carry out an attack order. Hitler’s outburst is believed to have occurred because the Waffen-SS, which he believed had never before failed him, finally gave out. Within the city, though, were a number of Waffen-SS units, including the remnants of the Nordland and Charlemagne Divisions. They were determined to fight to the very end.

The street fighting in Berlin followed the Soviet victory at Seelow Heights, fought from April 16 to April 19 on the west bank of the Oder River. The last large-scale battle between the Germans and Russians had pitted Marshal Georgi Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front against Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici’s Army Group Vistula.

Dead troops and a destroyed half-track of the 11th SS Nordland Division. The Nordland troops were among those who fought to the bitter end in Berlin.

The Soviets, who outnumbered the Germans 10 to one, fought their way through Heinrici’s layered defense and entered the city. At that point, Stalin also directed Marshal Ivan Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front, which was situated southeast of Berlin, to fight its way into the city. This produced a heated rivalry between Zhukov and Konev in which each sought to be the one regarded as the conqueror of Berlin.

The Russians relentlessly struck the Germans with a blend of massed artillery, armor, and infantry. Most of the Volkssturm scattered, but the Hitler Youth fought heroically in the last week of April, to the admiration of the foreign SS troops.

The foreign SS troops found the intensity of the Soviet artillery bombardment unnerving. SS Nordland soldier Erik Wallin and his comrades took position in an abandoned house, but they could not escape the ferocity of the Red Army’s heavy guns. “[The artillery] sang and thundered all around and the blast waves threw us, half conscious, to and fro between the walls,” wrote Wallin. “The defenders who were killed by collapsing walls, ceilings and iron girders numbered more than [those] who got a direct hit. It became unendurable to stay in this inferno. Whirling stone, scrap iron and bloody body parts made the air impossible to breathe, filled as it was with limestone dust and gunpowder gases.” Wallin and his fellow SS soldiers evaded encirclement by escaping through narrow passages and backstreets. All the while their losses mounted.

On April 25 Fenet’s soldiers joined forces with the remnants of SS Nordland Division’s Danmark and Norge Regiments, as well as some of the men of the division’s pioneer battalion. The Nordland troops, who were led by Sturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Ternedde, also possessed a few tanks and assault guns. They had continued to fight after the Battle of Seelow Heights even as other German units fled west in the hope of surrendering to the Americans at Charlottenburg rather than the deeply embittered Russian troops. The SS troops were augmented by a smattering of other Waffen-SS personnel, including Finns, Latvians, Spaniards, and Hungarians. In addition, their numbers included some fanatical Hitler Youth and poorly armed Volkssturm.

The combined force assembled near Tempelhof airport on the south side of the city. They managed to advance just over half a mile before Soviet resistance stopped them. Col. Gen. Vasily Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army spearheaded the Russian assault. The Russian infantry was supported by tanks from Col. Gen. Mikhail Katukov’s 1st Guards Tank Army. By noon Fenet’s command post was under heavy enemy machine-gun fire. The foreign Waffen-SS soldiers launched their own counterattack. They initially forced back the Russians, but reinforcements arrived. They soon found their flanks assailed by the enemy as the Soviet soldiers sought desperately to encircle and destroy the assembled force.

The foreign Waffen-SS soldiers withdrew and set up a defensive position at nightfall. The Nordland panzer troops positioned some of their assault guns behind barricades made of paving stones. When more Russian tanks arrived, the assault guns opened fire. They knocked out several enemy tanks before running out of ammunition. The Nordland panzers withdrew. Without their armored support, Fenet’s men fell back. The Frenchmen bedded down for the night in a beer hall near the Anhalter train station.

The fighting continued the next day with the foreign SS troops heavily engaged against Chuikov’s spearhead. “Our men advanced as if on maneuvers, leapt from door to door and fell upon the Red snipers hidden in the upper storey,” wrote one SS-Charlemagne soldier. “The tanks behind them spewed fire and flames and barely gave the enemy infantry the opportunity to fire effectively. Our attack gained ground, but then we suffered a severe blow.”

The Hitler Youth fought heroically, attacking Soviet tanks at close quarters with handheld panzerfausts. As for his troops, Fenet claimed that they destroyed 62 Soviet tanks in the desperate fighting.

The Soviets made heavy use of tanks in the Berlin fighting and suffered heavy losses in the close-quarters fighting to panzerfausts and other antitank weapons. “There was no limit to their tank forces,” recalled Wallin. “The infantry we saw less and less…. We realized the forces ranged against us were exclusively tanks, assault guns and entire battalions of Stalin organ rockets. There wasn’t an infantry soldier among them.”

Fenet said the Soviet infantry also used flamethrowers to clear out German pockets of resistance. “There was fighting everywhere,” he recalled, “in the backyards behind the houses, on the roofs, with assault rifles, with hand grenades and with bayonets. The smoke and dust almost choked and blinded us. We could only see for half a meter. Our tank hunters were constantly on the alert. Wilhelm Street was littered with burning tanks, their ammunition exploding and their fuel tanks blowing up in flames.”

A small number of Charlemagne troops had barricaded themselves in a basement of the former Gestapo headquarters. About 100 military policemen fought alongside them. Fenet, who was wounded in the foot, continued to lead them. Generalmajor Wilhelm Mohnke, a former commander of the German SS Division Leibstandarte, presented him with a Knight’s Cross.

Many of the Charlemagne troops were eager to earn a Knight’s Cross, so Fenet passed out the few he had to deserving soldiers. The next morning the French hid in a building at the Air Ministry. At that point, all was quiet. A few cars flying white flags appeared. Russian troops accompanied by German officers exited the cars and implored the French SS men to surrender. A Luftwaffe major told Fenet the surrender document was signed and that his unit should capitulate.

The Frenchmen decided to try to break out. They moved through subway tunnels until reaching the Kaiserhof station. They could hear Russian troops in military vehicles on the streets above blowing their horns in celebration. The SS men eventually reached a bridge near the Potsdam train station and hid beneath it. Their plan was to resume their flight at night in the hope of reaching the formation commanded by General of Panzer Troops Walther Wenck

Wenck had directed his troops to fight solely for the purpose of keeping open an avenue of escape so that civilians and soldiers fleeing Berlin during this final battle might reach Allied lines. But before the French SS soldiers could leave the bridge, the Russians captured them. They were among the 130,000 German troops taken prisoner by the Russians in and around Berlin.

A few Waffen-SS foreign fighters did manage to escape Berlin, but the reprieve they attained was temporary. One Norwegian SS soldier was captured but escaped his drunken guard and made it to the British. Another hid in a cellar before making his way to the coast and boarding a boat to Denmark, where he was soon arrested.

French General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque speaks with captured soldiers of the SS Charlemagne Division on May 7, 1945. Some accounts assert that he threatened to have them shot as traitors.

SS Nordland soldiers Wallin and Hans-Gota Pehrsson managed to successfully escape from Berlin. Disguising themselves as Italian refugees, they made their way past two Soviet checkpoints and onto a ferry that took them across the Elbe River into British-controlled territory.

Most of the German soldiers who reached Allied lines were returned to their home countries, where they were arrested and put on trial. The Russians captured Fenet and returned him to France where he received 20 years at hard labor. He was later released after serving only half of his sentence.

The Russians and Cossacks who served in various SS formations were returned to the Soviet Union. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the execution of many and the remainder he sent to the so-called Gulag Archipelago in Siberia.

Of the Soviet soldiers serving in the Waffen-SS, the Ukrainians of the Galician Division fared the best. The Red Cross, the Vatican, and the Polish Army all intervened on their behalf. Because of this, they were not returned to the Soviet Union. After a brief internment, they were allowed to emigrate to the United Kingdom and North America.

In Yugoslavia the results varied. Many SS men were poorly treated, but President Josip Broz Tito realized he would have to tread lightly in order to successfully unite the disparate ethnic groups within Yugoslavia’s borders. Those accused of specific crimes against Yugoslavians were put on trial, while amnesty was granted to the rest, including former SS men.

The effectiveness of these Waffen-SS divisions was mixed. Although some of them evolved into formidable fighting units, many never performed well and were often limited to fighting partisans. Yet whatever their record in combat, almost all Waffen-SS divisions were involved in various crimes, including the execution of prisoners of war, massacres of civilians, and various other misdeeds. Some foreign-born Waffen-SS fighters came from units that were involved in the deportation of Jews and others to the concentration camps. On the whole, the criminality of the Waffen-SS is beyond dispute and forever tied to the regime it served.

There’s no denying that the foreign Waffen-SS units were vital to the expansion of the Waffen-SS. Indeed, through the incorporation of foreign troops, the Waffen-SS managed to double in size every 12 months beginning in late 1942. The strength and effectiveness of the Waffen-SS in the second half of World War II would have been vastly reduced without the infusion of hundreds of thousands of foreign troops, many of whom served until the bitter end in Berlin.


Find out more on the Battle of The Bulge in the January 2018 issue of The Armourer.

Next to the SS runes, the Totenkopf is easily one of the most sought-after items from not only SS collectors, but WWII militaria buffs in general. Translating to Dead’s Head (or Death’s Head), it refers to the skull and crossbones design used by certain elite divisions in the SS. The skull and crossbones motif itself is not new, dating back many hundreds of years, and has been used in many cultures to ascribe danger and death or the presence of an elite military unit, however it is often associated with German military use circa 19th and 20th centuries. The Totenkopf can come in three primary forms: collar tabs, visor or lapel pins and painted on the side of some armoured cars or even fighter planes. Of course, it might be difficult for the collector to track down a Totenkopf in vehicle form, so we shall focus on the tab and pin.

A late-war Zinc Totenkopf visor pin – note the colouration particular to zinc, as well as the mandible which shows it to be a late-war piece.

The Totenkopf tabs came in two forms: with a mandible and without a mandible with the no-mandible design being part of the uniform for some Panzer divisions but not others. The skull-with-mandible design, as a collar tab, was reserved for the 3rd SS Panzer Division of the Waffen-SS specifically, who had taken the name Totenkopf for their particular division, and thus their tabs would have the full Totenkopf design instead of the SS rune (along with the usual rank pips and stripes.) Like the SS rune tabs, they too were of a silver material embroidered onto a black background with an officer’s tabs having a silver border to them. A single, pristine Totenkopf (full-mandible) can go for about £380 ($500) whereas a paired set (with rank insignia) can go for up to £1520 ($2000) or more.

An embroidered collar tab with silver border featuring the Totenkopf design opposite a tab with three diagonal pips denoted the rank of Second Lieutenant. A tank destroyer driver in the Panzerjäger Abteilung, Feb 1944. Note the Totenkopf tabs with the no-mandible design. Colouration courtesy of Douglas Nash.

Despite the relative rarity of the Totenkopf tabs, the visor pins tend to be more sought after, possibly due to the fact that they were used in many of the more notorious SS divisions or that they have fared better over time than their material counterparts. Worn on the visor band of a given cap, the insignia were initially made of tombak (a brass alloy with high copper and zinc content) or CUPAL (an alloy of copper and aluminium), however as materials became scarcer in the late ware period zinc then became the metal of choice. Pre-war designs for the pin were of a skull with no mandible over a pair of crossbones, resembling the Prussian Hussar Totenkopf insignia often worn on busbies. However, the second pattern, and by far the more recognisable, became the more common – with skull and mandible placed over a pair of crossed bones. In terms of late-war period, collectors would then be advised to look for zinc SS skull visor pins and to ensure they have the mandible as part of the design. Luckily, the pins cost a bit less than the tabs and collectors can find them for between £227-£607 ($300-$800) depending on condition and provenance.

A tombak Totenkopf pin. Note the lack of a mandible which suggests either an early-war design or usage in certain Panzer divisions.


Class Barriers Torn Down To Build Trust

Another Felix Steiner innovation was the abolishment of the class system between officers and enlisted men. He knew full well that the hardships on the battlefield demanded an unquestioned trust between the two groups. Therefore, he broke down the traditional barriers that separated the men from their superiors by having them compete in sporting events as equals. The officers and enlisted men also shared the same mess area, and anyone aspiring to become an officer had to serve at least two years in the ranks before being accepted for officer training.

Steiner slowly transformed the Deutschland into a unit that impressed even senior army officers. His innovations soon found their way into other SS Standarte, including the LeibStandarte Adolf Hitler, the Führer’s bodyguard unit commanded by Hitler’s old friend Josef “Sepp” Dietrich.

After the war, Steiner wrote, “I believe we succeeded in producing a very fine type of young leader who was above all inculcated with the team spirit never taught in the German Army. Everyone in the SS units joined in activities together—the greater emphasis was always on team spirit and comradeship.… We intended to instill an unparalleled esprit de corps in our force that would mark it out as one of the finest ever assembled. In the main, I believe we achieved this objective, despite what some said about us and at times not without reason.”


There is often confusion between songs written specifically for the Nazi Party, and much older German patriotic songs (from before World War I) that were used extensively by the Nazis and have become associated with them. This observation applies above all to Das Lied der Deutschen ("The song of the Germans"), written in 1841. It became the national anthem of the Weimar Republic in 1922, but during the Nazi era, only the first stanza was used, followed by the SA song "Horst-Wessel-Lied". [1]

In modern Germany, the public singing or performing of songs identified exclusively with Nazi Germany is illegal. [2] It can be punished with up to three years of imprisonment.

Many pre-1933 SA songs were based on older German folk melodies, but there were also instances in which SA combat songs copied the melodies of rival Red Front Fighters songs, which were in turn based on Russian marches. An example of this is the fascist song "Brüder in Zechen und Gruben" ("Brothers in mines and pits"), which copied the melody of the communist "Brüder, zur Sonne, zur Freiheit" (Brothers, to the sun, to freedom"), whose melody, in turn, belonged to the march "Smelo, tovarishchi, v nogu" ("Смело, товарищи, в ногу" "Comrades, let's bravely march") written in 1895/6 by Leonid Radin in Moscow's Taganka prison.

"Horst Wessel Lied" Edit

The "Horst-Wessel-Lied" ("Song of Horst Wessel"), also known as "Die Fahne Hoch" ("The Flag Raised"), was the official anthem of the NSDAP. The song was written by Horst Wessel, a party activist and SA leader, who was killed by a member of the Communist Party of Germany. After his death, he was proclaimed by the NSDAP a "martyr" and his song gained widespread popularity among the party followers. [3]

Public performances of the song are currently forbidden in Germany (StGB §86a) and Austria (Verbotsgesetz 1947), a ban that includes both the lyrics and the melody, which are only permitted for educational purposes.

"Kampflied der Nationalsozialisten" Edit

"Kampflied der Nationalsozialisten" ("Battle Song of the National Socialists"), also known by its opening line "Wir Sind Das Heer Vom Hakenkreuz" ("We Are The Army Of The Swastika") was an early Nazi hymn. Its lyrics were written by Kleo Pleyer, while the melody was essentially based on that of the traditional German folk song Stimmt an mit hellem hohen klang, which was composed in 1811 by Albert Methfessel. Later on, the verses of Das Berliner Jungarbeiterlied (with the opening line Herbei zum Kampf, ihr Knechte der Maschinen) were added to the song. Das Berliner Jungarbeiterlied was set to the melody of the Air March (the official march of the Soviet Air Force), which was composed in 1921 by Yuliy Abramovich Khayt. During the Nazi era, the song was performed by Carl Woitschach's orchestra in its full version, incorporating both melodies, as "Kampflied der Nationalsozialisten/Herbei zum Kampf".

"Die Hitlerleute” (Kameraden Laßt Erschallen) Edit

"Kameraden Laßt Erschallen" ("Comrades Let it Resound") was a Sturmabteilung arrangement of the Kaiserjägerlied written by Karl Mühlberger in 1914. The author of the lyrics of Die Hitlerleute was Horst Wessel himself and the song originated from his unit, the Sturm 67/5(Sturm 67, Standarte 5) of the Berlin Sturmabteilung, also known as the Sturm "Horst Wessel", named in honor of Horst Wessel, also known by its old name before Horst Wessel's death, "The Hitlerleute". The first recording of the song was published by the company Electrola around the early 1930s.

"Auf, Hitlerleute, schließt die Reihen" (Hitlernationale) Edit

The Nazis were not reticent in employing songs and melodies previously associated wholly with socialists and communists in their quest to broaden their appeal to the working class, and the Internationale was a prime target. By 1930, a Nazi version of this working-class standard was in circulation, entitled the Hitlernationale: [4]

Auf, Hitlerleute, schließt die Reihen,
Zum Rassenkampf sind wir bereit.
Mit unserem Blut wollen wir das
Banner weihen,
Zum Zeichen einer neuen Zeit.
Auf rotem Grund im weißen Felde,
Weht unser schwarzes Hakenkreuz.
Schon jubeln Siegessignale,
Schon bricht der Morgen hell herein.
Der nationale Sozialismus
Wird Deutschlands Zukunft sein.

Arise Hitler men, close ranks,
We are ready for the racial struggle.
With our blood we consecrate the
banner,
The symbol of a new era.
On its red and white background,
Shines our black swastika bright.
Victory sounds are heard all over,
As the morning light breaks through
National Socialism
Is the future of Germany.

Appropriating working-class songs such as the Internationale for their own political ends had a direct effect on the streets, as the Nazi composer Hans Bajer noted with obvious delight when giving this account of a march by the SA into working-class district of north Berlin one Sunday afternoon in 1930:

When the storm troopers broke into song, singing the ‘Hitlernationale’, residents threw open their windows, misled momentarily by the familiar tune. Realizing quickly that Nazis were trying to appropriate the melody of their revolutionary anthem, the socialist residents countered by singing the refrain from the original text ‘Völker hört die Signale! Auf zum letzten Gefecht’ (‘Comrades, listen to the Signal! Onward, to the final battle!’), while others pelted the storm troopers with bits of debris. Police promptly moved in to prevent serious trouble. [4]

Bajer’s account proves once more that song played a central role in the battle for control of the streets. [4]

"Hitlerleute" ("The Hitler's people") Edit

That song had the same tune of Italian "Giovinezza" [5]

This is not to be confused with “Die Hitlerleute”, most commonly referred to as “Kameraden Laßt Erschallen” which is a completely different song.

The song "Deutschland Erwache" ("Germany Awake"), also known by its original name, "Heil Hitler Dir" ("Hail Hitler to Thee"), otherwise known as Sachsenmarsch der NSDAP, was written by Dresden-based composer and NSDAP member Bruno C. Schestak, and premiered (in the famous surviving version performed by Carl Woitschach) in the celebrations of Hitler's 48th birthday on 20 April 1937. [ citation needed ]

"SS marschiert in Feindesland" ("SS marches in enemy territory") also known as "Teufelslied" ("The Devil's Song") [6] was a marching song of the Waffen-SS during World War II. The music for this song came from the "Lied der Legion Condor" ("Song of the Condor Legion"), which was written by Wolfram Philipps and Christian Jährig, two Condor Legion pilots with the rank of Oberleutnant. A marching song with the same melody was adopted by the Charlemagne French SS Division, [7] the Estonian SS Division, the Latvian Legion and the Norwegian Legion during the war. [8] A song with a similar melody, "Dragões do Ar" ("Dragons of the Air"), was adopted by the Paratroopers Brigade (Brazil). [9]

In 2013, Stefan Gotschacher, press secretary of the right-wing populist and national-conservative FPÖ political party in Austria, was fired after posting lyrics of the song on his Facebook page. [10]

"Es zittern die morschen Knochen" ("The Rotten Bones Are Trembling") by Hans Baumann was, after the "Horst-Wessel-Lied", one of the most famous Nazi Party songs and the official song of the Hitler Youth. [11]

The original song's refrain (1932) was "Denn heute gehört uns Deutschland / und morgen die ganze Welt" ("For today, Germany is ours / and tomorrow the whole world"). In a later version (1937) this was mitigated for the Hitler Youth to "Denn heute da hört uns Deutschland. " ("For today, Germany hears us. "). [12]

"Vorwärts! Vorwärts! schmettern die hellen Fanfaren" ("Forward! Forward! Blare the Bright Fanfares") was a Hitler Youth marching song. The text of the song, published in 1933, comes from Baldur von Schirach and is based on a melody by UFA composer Hans-Otto Borgmann, originally used in a documentary on Svalbard island. [ citation needed ]

"Vorwärts! Vorwärts!" was first performed in the 1933 propaganda film Hitlerjunge Quex. Motifs from the song are used throughout the film, underlying representations of the Hitler Youth, in contrast to The Internationale and jazz motifs in scenes from a socialist "commune". [13]

"Panzerlied" was a German military marching song of the Wehrmacht armored troops (Panzerwaffe), composed in 1933. [14] The NSKK (Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps) also made their own take on the Panzerlied, but with a different variation called the Panzerwagenlied. In 2017, the Bundeswehr was banned from publishing songbooks containing Panzerlied and other marching songs by the Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen as part of new efforts at denazification. [15]

"Heiliges Feuer" ("Holy Fire"), also known by its opening line "Wir Sind Die Arbeit Soldaten", was a song composed by Will Decker. The first full score of the song was done in 1934 by Herms Niel and the song was first premiered to the public in 1935 in the NSDAP propaganda film Triumph Des Willens (Triumph of the Will). The original title given by Will Decker to the song was actually "Heiliges Feuer, Das Lied und der Marsch des Arbeitsdienstes, unter Verwendung der Melodie von Will Decker".

"Deutschland, du Land der Treue" (or "Heil Deutschland"), is a song written and famously sung by Franz Baumann in 1934, based on a melody "Blue bell: March Song and Chorus" by Theodore F. Morse.

"Sieg Heil Viktoria" was a marching song of the SS was written by Herms Niel in 1941.

In the lyrics by following phrase "Auf Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, ade, ade, ade," to represent the Allied leaders of World War II.


Primary Sources

(1) General Hans von Seeckt, Thoughts of a Soldier (1928)

In this way a military mass is constituted which, though unsuited to take part in a war of movement and seek a

decision in formal battle, is well able to fulfill the duty of home defence, and at the same time to provide from

its best dements a continuous reinforcement of the regular, combatant army in the field.

In brief, the whole future of warfare appears to me to lie in the employment of mobile armies, relatively small but of high quality, and rendered distinctly more effective by the addition of aircraft, and in the simultaneous mobilization of the whole forces, either to feed the attack or for home defence.

(2) General Werner von Blomberg, Volkischer Beobachter (29th June, 1933)

The Army's role is clearly determined it must serve the National Socialist State, which it affirms with the deepest conviction. Equally it must support those leaders who have given it back its noblest right to be not only the bearer of arms, but also the bearer, recognized by State and people, of their unlimited confidence. The Army stands, loyal and disciplined, behind the rulers of the State, behind the President, Field-Marshall von Hindenberg, its Supreme Commander, and behind the leader of the Reich, Adolf Hitler, who came from its ranks and remains one of ours.

(3) Stephen Roberts, The House that Hitler Built (1938)

There is no doubt that Germany has the largest army outside Russia. When completely organized, her thirty-six infantry divisions alone will include 600,000 men. Britain has just over 150,000 men, in five divisions. France has a peace-time army of twenty-five divisions at home. No reasonable observer can doubt that, if Hitler organizes his thirty-six divisions and trains 300,000 conscripts a year, in a few years he will have the finest army in Europe.

(4) General Walter Warlimont, order issued to German Army about the occupation of the Soviet Union (12th May, 1941)

1. Political officials and leaders are to be liquidated.

2. Insofar as they are captured by the troops, an officer with authority to impose disciplinary punishment decides whether the given individual must be liquidated. For such ax decision the fact suffices that he is a political official.

3. Political leaders in the troops (Red Army) are not recognized as prisoners of war and are to be liquidated at the latest in the prisoner-of-war transit camps.

(5) Wilhelm Keitel, order issued to German Army (16th December, 1942)

This war no longer has anything to do with knightly conduct or with the agreements of the Geneva Convention. If this war is not fought with the greatest brutality against the bands both in the East and in the Balkans then in the foreseeable future the strength at our disposal will not be sufficient to be able to master this plague. The troops are therefore empowered and are in duty bound in this war to use without mitigation even against women and children any means that will lead to success. Consideration of any kind are a crime against the German people and the soldier at the front.

(6) Lieutenant-General Khozin, of the Red Army, wrote about the German Army in the book, Strategy and Tactics of the Soviet-German War (1943)

The claim that the German Army is "invincible" is a myth invented by the Nazi rulers. The easy victories of 1939 and 1940, on which the German militarists now preen themselves, were won not so much by their own forces as by base treachery in the countries against which they fought.

It is common knowledge that some members of the former French government were connected with German agents and deliberately led their army and people to defeat.

In cases where the Germans met resistance they crushed it by superiority in numbers and armament. In September, 1939, the Nazis moved 45 infantry divisions of 16,000 men each against Poland, which only had 40 divisions of 10,500 men each. The Germans had twice as much heavy artillery-1,400 guns against 600 they had 3,100 light guns against 2,400 4,790 anti-tank guns against 600 3,350 tanks against 910 and 2,500 aeroplanes against 1,200. Even with this superiority of equipment the German Reinhardt tank division was smashed in Warsaw.

In the main drive against the Allies in Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg on May 10, 1940, the Germans used 107 infantry and 10 tank divisions, while the Allies used 63 infantry divisions, 4 light mechanized and 6 cavalry divisions. These Allies belonged to four different armies - the French, British, Belgian and Dutch - which actually were not under one command. Moreover, some of these armies were disunited by deep-rooted political friction and conflicting opinions on operations and strategy.

Actually, however, the German Army has had no experience in breaking through modern fortified zones. The Polish western frontiers were completely unfortified, and the defences on the northern frontiers of France were extremely weak. The German Army actually advanced on the Maginot Line from the rear, making use of the splendid French roads.

(7) Colonel Maltitsky of the Red Army took part in the fighting in Finland in 1941.

It is significant that even in the wooded terrain, where close fighting predominates, the Germans avoid hand-to-hand encounters and strive to dislodge the Soviet sub-divisions from their positions solely with the aid of fire. They have never been known to accept a bayonet charge of the Soviet infantry. When launching an offensive the Fascist units usually sustain heavy losses in manpower. Whenever successful, they completely refrain from pursuit.

The Finns practise different methods of warfare. They rarely attack the well-organized defence and prefer cautiously to advance where resistance is weaker. The Finnish offensive on an organized defence is easily routed with heavy losses to them. In defence, however, the Finnish forces are superior to the Germans.

In general, the methods of offensive operations of the Finns consist in advancing slowly but securing their positions. Usually, after occupying a district, the Finns immediately try to fortify it. A scouting party then

seeks a new terrain and the units try to occupy the next district.

(8) Basil Liddell Hart, The Other Side of the Hill (1930)

It is obvious that the officers of the Reichswehr were beneficiaries, in their professional prospects, from the expansion of the forces that followed Hitler's advent. Moreover, Blomberg and other generals have admitted

that they originally welcomed his regime because it released Germany and the Army from the shackles of the Versailles Treaty. That was a very natural attitude on the part of keen professional soldiers, though one that many of them lived to regret. Others, with more foresight, were apprehensive from the start, for there was good reason to assume that the amateur or "displaced" soldiers who led the S.A. would not be content, once their Party was in power, to see military office remain a privileged preserve of the traditionally conservative Reichswehr.

What is really more remarkable than the German generals' submission to Hitler is the extent to which they managed to maintain in the Army a code of decency that was in constant conflict with Nazi ideas. Many of our own soldiers who have been prisoners of war have borne testimony to this. Moreover, in visiting France, Belgium, and Holland since the war I have often been candidly told, by staunch anti-Nazis, that the general behaviour of the occupying German Army - as distinct from the S.S. - was better than that of the Allied Armies which came to liberate them. For that due credit has to be given to the generals, and to Rundstedt in particular.

Where the German generals can be justly criticized is for the way they tended to dose their minds to the excesses of the Nazis, and for their lack of moral courage, with some exceptions, in protesting against things they would not have done themselves. Nevertheless, it is obvious from any study of Hitler's brutal orders that the scale of atrocities, and the sufferings of the occupied countries, would have been much worse still if his sweeping intentions had not been tacitly disregarded or at least modified by the military commanders.

(9) Joseph Goebbels, diary (2nd March, 1945)

I talked to Sepp Dietrich and he told me of the next assignment given him by the Führer. Dietrich quite openly criticised measures taken by the Führer. He complains that the Führer does not give his military staff a sufficiently free hand and that this tendency has now become so pronounced that the Führer even lays down the employment of individual companies. But Dietrich is in no position to judge. The Führer cannot rely on his military advisers. They have so often deceived him and thrown dust in his eyes that he now has to attend to every detail. Thank God he does attend to them, for if he did not, matters would be even worse than they are anyway.

(10) In 1943 Lieutenant-General Rokoossovsky of the Red Army wrote about the German invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

The Germans avoid woods, fearing guerillas and knowing how difficult it is to use tanks there. In the villages they generally select brick houses or houses with brick foundations as firing posts. Not infrequently German soldiers dressed in women's clothing move from the houses to the trenches, reckoning that Soviet artillery will not notice this ruse.

Bayonet charges are dreaded by the Germans and they always avoid them. In counter-attacking, they shoot without even taking aim.

Engagements with enemy tank units have led us to the conclusion that German tank crews are afraid of the anti-tank grenades extensively used by Soviet infantry.

(11) Major General Susloparov fought in the Red Army against the German Army during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

Close-range fighting is the chink in the German infantry's armour. On the South-Western Front 300 Nazi soldiers were destroyed in one day, mostly as the result of Soviet bayonet attacks. The German infantry rarely brings the attack close enough for bayonets to be used but when they do, they scatter in panic or surrender. The German infantry is accustomed to advance behind a steel wall of tanks. Independent action is their weak point, and the Red Army takes advantage of this weakness.

In a recent engagement Major Laskin was given the task of smashing a German concentration at a certain point. The Nazi forces included a large number of tanks and motorized infantry. Under cover of night Major Laskin's battalion approached the enemy's outposts and entrenched itself in a hollow during the artillery barrage.

By the time the barrage was over the Nazi infantry had climbed out of its transports and their tanks were moving off. The hidden Red Army men let the tanks pass and then made a bayonet charge on the infantry. The Germans declined to fight. Some of them scrambled back into the transport lorries, but the fear-crazed drivers

drove off and left most of their comrades to their fate. The Nazis fled in all directions, some hiding in the tall rye, others taking refuge in ditches and on roof-tops. They were everywhere hunted out and dispatched with bayonets.

(12) Harold Alexander, Memoirs: 1940-1945 (1961)

Twenty-six nations contributed contingents to my command in Italy. I feel, therefore, it will be agreed that I speak from first-hand experience of the varying fighting qualities of troops in battle when I affirm that there are no better soldiers than those of the British race, provided they have a cause worth fighting for - and dying for, if necessary.

And what of the foe that our soldiers and those of our allies overcame and mastered? Having fought against the Germans in two world wars I cannot conceal my regard for their ability as fighting men. They are very brave and tough, and have a marked sense of duty and discipline. Furthermore, they take pride in mastering their weapons and learning their job on the battlefield.

If the Germans are a warrior race, they are certainly militarist also. I think they love the military pageant and the panoply of war and the feeling of strength and power that a well-organized and disciplined unit gives to each and every individual member of that unit. I am quite willing to admit that I myself share this curious attraction for the strength and elegance of beautifully trained and equipped formations, with all the art and subtlety of their movements in action against an enemy. I can well understand the enthusiasm which the soldiers-from marshals to the private soldier - showed for Napoleon and why they followed their leader without doubt or question in his victorious campaigns. Feeling thus, they shared the glory of his conquests.

I can also understand the German soldier's high morale when Hitler seemed invincible but I think it very remarkable that they fought their last battles just as toughly and bravely as when they were winning their first-although they must have realized that all was lost. The last battles in Italy were just as bitter as any we had experienced in the Western Desert, or in the earlier stages of the Italian campaign. Like the boxer in the ring, the German soldier didn't give up until he was knocked out: and make no mistake about it, he was!

(13) Captain George Leinster of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry took part in the D-Day invasion. He wrote about his experiences in a letter to his mother on 29th September 1944.

My failure to write earlier has not been due to being always on the move. Between our periods of movement and excitement we have been able to have short but very pleasant rests. These 'rests' are often my busiest times, and somehow I always just failed to write the fuller type of letter. Often too, experiences crowded on one another so fast that there was too much to say in anything less than a small book. Now that another phase seems to have ended, it is possible to look back and see things in truer perspective.

On that and on many other occasions we have felt that if the Germans were not such swines we could feel some pity for them. We feel not a shred of pity. I have talked with many German prisoners do not do so now as they make me feel furious. They have a sort of mental leprosy which render parts of their minds and emotions entirely insensitive. I know that when they are destroying and burning in their heyday they felt no pang or qualm for the suffering they caused. That they lack a sense of persona conscience is understandable, but it is baffling to find all their kinder emotions equally atrophied.

How you who have not come into close contact with the Germans can hope to understand them I do not know. It is difficult enough for us who meet them constantly. I hope that those who control our post-war relations with Germany shall be men who know the German as the Soldier does.

The Germans were very frightened of the Maquis, the armed civilians, in France and Belgium. It was the fear of a guilty conscience. They were delighted to surrender to us and so be protected against the vengeance of the partisans. Never was protection given less willingly. There were many cases in which natural justice was speedily meted out by the civilians. We could not countenance this when we were present, but did not regret it when we could not prevent it.

The joy of the people is equalled only by their hatred of the Germans. This can almost be felt. Their great fear is that the mass of the English, so far away in detached England, will again be too lenient towards the Germans owing to a mistaken sense of fair play. Most of them wish to see the Germans literally exterminated, and all say we must go right to Berlin and impose our will from there. We realise how fortunate we are that England is an island it is hard for Englishmen to appreciate the feelings of these smaller countries who are on Germany's doorstep and who cannot stand up to Germany without strong support. I think our prestige has been very high since Autumn 1940, when we stood alone, but never in all our history has it been so high, at least in Europe, as it is today.



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