Why the Waffen-SS

Discussions on all (non-biographical) aspects of the Freikorps, Reichswehr, Austrian Bundesheer, Heer, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Fallschirmjäger and the other Luftwaffe ground forces. Hosted by Christoph Awender.
Michael Kenny
Member
Posts: 6365
Joined: 07 May 2002 19:40
Location: Teesside

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Michael Kenny » 28 Aug 2018 16:36

praetorianavis wrote:
28 Aug 2018 16:02
What I try do to is to answer the question: why the Waffen SS.

For some posters here any attempt at an explanation to the birth and persistence of their legend is tantamount to glorification.
Low overall standards mean those who perform adequately stand out from the herd. The late war German Army was in the main made up of second-rate units in that they lacked the mechanization and combined-arms support of the Allied Infantry Divisions. German Infantry Divisions could perform their task if they were in defending prepared positions but once it became mobile they were simply not up to the task. Any German mechanised unit was 'elite;'' compared to the standard Infantry Division.

Sid Guttridge
Member
Posts: 7295
Joined: 12 Jun 2008 11:19

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Sid Guttridge » 28 Aug 2018 17:43

Hi praetorianavis,

You ask, "So why did Eisenhower not write: the panzerwaffe, the paratroop, etc. as usual fought to annihilation." A good question, especially as the one parachute division did fight to annihilation at Brest and none of the Army panzer divisions escaped Normandy in any better condition than the W-SS ones!

The Waffen-SS rarely fought to the last man. Two-thirds of them survived the war and as their losses on the Eastern Front over 1941-44 were proportionally slightly lower than those of the Army - so one might conclude that the Army was even more inclined to fight to the last man than the W-SS. In fact, as the senior W-SS divisions were always motorized, they were less vulnerable to annihilation than the "ordinary German infantry", who could cut and run faster when necessary.

I would suggest that one reason why the W-SS has mistakenly been particularly associated with a "firebrigade" role is because in 1943-44 eight fresh W-SS panzer and panzergrenadier divisions were created in rear areas as the Army struggled to hold the front. Their arrival as fresh troops had an impact that the jaded Army panzer divisions already on the scene could not hope to have. By contrast, the senior W-SS divisions did absolutely no "firebrigade" work during the key Stalingrad Campaign by virtue of being entirely absent from any front, anywhere, for the better part of six months!

I would suggest that the primary value of the senior, Reich-raised, armoured, W-SS divisions was not that they were particularly fanatical against Communism, but that they were also determined against the Capitalists of the Western Democracies. The German Army could be relied upon to fight with determination against the Bolshevik, Slavic, Red Army, threat, of which it was convinced, but it arguably felt rather less threatened by the Western Democracies, with whom German culture had much in common historically, and even racially.

There is a certain amount of misplaced analogy drawn on the western side of the Atlantic between the US Marines and the W-SS. The two were widely dissimilar. The W-SS was an armed party political militia that was entirely devoted to Hitler and the Nazi Party. The US Marines serve the duly elected President of whatever party, because their primary loyalty is to their country. The Waffen-SS had absolutely no unique military functions not already pioneered by the German Army, of which, militarily, it was essentially a clone, whereas the US Marines have a unique military function in amphibious warfare. There is therefore no military justification for the W-SS as an independent arm of service, whereas there definitely is one to justify the US Marines as an independent arm of service.

When I was in Rhodesia in 1979, I and a South African liaison officer did informal comparitive tests between Rhodesian three-coloured cammo and South African, single-colour, medium brown, "Pronutria" cammo. We concluded that there was nothing significant to choose between the two, because the Pronutria was broken up by fading, wrinkling, folds and shadow as effectively as the Rhodesian cammo was by its multiple colours. Our conclusion was that the key thing was to get a base colour compatible with the environment, not how many colours were applied.

All the best,

Sid.
Last edited by Sid Guttridge on 28 Aug 2018 17:48, edited 1 time in total.

histan
Member
Posts: 1523
Joined: 14 Jan 2008 17:22
Location: England

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by histan » 28 Aug 2018 17:46

None of the German Panzer Divisions in Normandy were "elite", whatever that means. None of them were capable of performing in the offensive role that German doctrine established for them and all failed completely when tasked with carrying out a deliberate attack. The role that they were capable of undertaking was the role that German doctrine assigned to an Infantry Division, that of defence. In the localised counter-attack role they had some success but at such cost that they had to be returned to the defensive role in order to protect their combat capability. The focus on the limited tactical successes that were achieved obscures the key operational level fact that at the start of June 1944 the Anglo-American forces were in the Southern United Kingdom and that by the start of September they were at the German border.

Regards

John

praetorianavis
Member
Posts: 41
Joined: 21 Aug 2018 16:45
Location: Mare Nostrum

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by praetorianavis » 28 Aug 2018 19:21

Thank you Sid for your valuable remarks on the isse.
Sid Guttridge wrote:
28 Aug 2018 17:43
„The Waffen-SS rarely fought to the last man.“
Statistacally this may be true, but for some reasons this is the impression many of their opponents - including their Commander in Chief - gained, and they brought back this image of the Waffen SS in good ol USA.
Sid Guttridge wrote:
28 Aug 2018 17:43
„they were also determined against the Capitalists of the Western Democracies“
I think most of them were not opposed to Capitalism, but they were conditioned against Jewish capitalists. The reason they were embittered on the Western front had much more to do with the carpet bombing campaign of the Western allies against German cities and their civilian population.

Allow me a lengthy citation to indicate, why the SS legend was was born.

„The difference was not, as many have supposed, that the Waffen SS was composed largely of active Nazis. On the countrary, the available evidence indicates that the great majority of the most active Nazis - members of the NSDAP, the SA, the Allgemeine SS and the Hitler Youth - performed their military service in the Wehrmacht.

And yet there can be little doubt that the Waffen SS possessed a distinct character, one that served to set it apart from the Army. Eugen Kogon, in his pioneering study „Der SS Staat“, offers a valuable insight into this character:“There was much naive and boyish idealism in the ranks of the Waffen SS, coupled with a savage soldier of fortune spirit.“ Most Waffen SS men, Kogon believes, „knew little or nothing concrete about the SS superstate or about SS aims.“ They limited themselves to „the relation of a single SS ideal - a tough recklessness. To them this was the epitome of the SS.“

With the proviso that this „tough recklessness“ and „savage soldier of fortune spirit“ had a marked National Socialist hue, Kogon’s interpretation rings true. Few of the men in the Wffen SS were old enough to have had any personal contact with the post-World War I Freikorps movement, yet it was the spirit of this movement, its nihilism and elitism, which perhaps comes closest to that of the Waffen SS.

The most important popularizer of this spirit was the German poet and novelist Ernst Jünger, who in 1919 wrote of a „new man, the storm soldier, the elite of central Europe. A completely new race, cunning, strong and packed with purpose… battle proven, merciless both to himself and others.“
Jünger’s warrior was only a figment of his imagination: but he might well have been describing the model SS officer, the ideal of the Junkerschulen (Cadet Schools) of the Waffen SS.“

George H. Stein, „The Waffen SS: Hitler’s elite Guard at War, 1939-1945“ pp 290-291

Books like this give a valuable insight into the core of the legend.

praetorianavis
Member
Posts: 41
Joined: 21 Aug 2018 16:45
Location: Mare Nostrum

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by praetorianavis » 28 Aug 2018 19:30

histan wrote:
28 Aug 2018 17:46
None of the German Panzer Divisions in Normandy were "elite", whatever that means. None of them were capable of performing in the offensive role that German doctrine established for them and all failed completely when tasked with carrying out a deliberate attack. The role that they were capable of undertaking was the role that German doctrine assigned to an Infantry Division, that of defence. In the localised counter-attack role they had some success but at such cost that they had to be returned to the defensive role in order to protect their combat capability. The focus on the limited tactical successes that were achieved obscures the key operational level fact that at the start of June 1944 the Anglo-American forces were in the Southern United Kingdom and that by the start of September they were at the German border.

Regards

John
Books like "Colossal Cracks: Montgomery's 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, 1944-45", by Stephen Ashley Hart show why the German Army including Waffen SS could not deploy and perform as intended. Simply put: they were cut to peaces by vastly overwhelming artillery and bombed to smithereens from the air. It is a wonder that they could halt the advance of the Allies for months under such conditions. The Russians were also bewildered, by the way.

User avatar
Cult Icon
Member
Posts: 1714
Joined: 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Cult Icon » 28 Aug 2018 19:36

References to "Fighting to the last man" in military history deals with combat strength, not total strength. Are clerks, truck drivers, and cooks going to fight to the last man?

As far as fighting their way to the coast, only the Panzer KG of the 21st Panzer succeeded in doing that, and only briefly (mainly due to the efforts of their infantry regiment). On the Italian Front, the 29.PzG, HG Panzer, and 16.Pz all didn't make it to the coast.

User avatar
Cult Icon
Member
Posts: 1714
Joined: 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Cult Icon » 28 Aug 2018 19:45

praetorianavis wrote:
28 Aug 2018 19:21

George H. Stein, „The Waffen SS: Hitler’s elite Guard at War, 1939-1945“ pp 290-291
Not a bad book, but very dated in its opinions. A lot of new material has come out since then. I personally disagree with the division of the SS being fanatical and the Army being not as fanatical. If one were to use the reduced quality late war (44-45) infantry units of the Army vs the SS Panzer then they may be right. However, the Army was just as " fanatical" as the late war SS Panzer in their offensive/defensive operations in 39- 43..

The only statistical proof of fanaticism I've seen is with the SS Totenkopf division. It sustained over 60,000 casualties in WW2 (IIRC around 66K), among this was 20,000 dead and 3,000 missing.

ljadw
Member
Posts: 10208
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 17:50

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by ljadw » 28 Aug 2018 19:55

Der SS Staat was published in 1946 !!!!
Thus totally dated and worthless.

Michael Kenny
Member
Posts: 6365
Joined: 07 May 2002 19:40
Location: Teesside

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Michael Kenny » 28 Aug 2018 20:02

praetorianavis wrote:
28 Aug 2018 19:30
It is a wonder that they could halt the advance of the Allies for months under such conditions.
They never halted the advance. They has local and insignificant tactical victories but strategically they were on the back-foot and retreating right from the start.
The pre-invasion Allied planning vastly overestimated the German's ability to resist. They expected to take a year to get to the Rhine and victory to be June/July 1945. They beat their own timetable!
During EPSOM Monty was warned of the planned 'elite' SS Divisions attack to reach the coast and split the Commonwealth forces from the Americans. He gave up Hill 112 (which the Germans then claimed they took by an assault!) and tided up his lines to deal with the offensive. He was able to defeat this attack without even realising it. He thought the actual attack was just a spoiler and was still expecting the main assault even after the Germans had been defeated and rebuffed!

Michael Kenny
Member
Posts: 6365
Joined: 07 May 2002 19:40
Location: Teesside

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Michael Kenny » 28 Aug 2018 20:06

Cult Icon wrote:
28 Aug 2018 19:36


As far as fighting their way to the coast, only the Panzer KG of the 21st Panzer succeeded in doing that, and only briefly (mainly due to the efforts of their infantry regiment).
They reached the coast because they advanced into open space. There were no Allied troops in the path of their advance. Once they saw the extent of the invasion force they quickly returned from whence they had come.

User avatar
Cult Icon
Member
Posts: 1714
Joined: 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Cult Icon » 28 Aug 2018 20:22

The Panzer divisions were sufficient for a damaging, prolonged defense against superior enemies but they didn't have the weight for major success in the attack for 1944 standards.
Last edited by Cult Icon on 28 Aug 2018 20:46, edited 1 time in total.

praetorianavis
Member
Posts: 41
Joined: 21 Aug 2018 16:45
Location: Mare Nostrum

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by praetorianavis » 28 Aug 2018 20:38

ljadw wrote:
28 Aug 2018 19:55
Der SS Staat was published in 1946 !!!!
Thus totally dated and worthless.
Contemporaries like Eisenhower and Kogon had a first hand experience and feel of the epoch, they grasped better what was in the air than we in our armchairs glued to our screens and digesting tons of secondary revisionist literature. The latest fashion is deconstructing and debunking everything the older generations, who were there, ever wrote as "worthless". Todays is a culture of adolescents.

j keenan
Financial supporter
Posts: 1418
Joined: 04 Jun 2007 11:22
Location: North

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by j keenan » 28 Aug 2018 20:47

Cult Icon wrote:
28 Aug 2018 20:22
The Panzer divisions were sufficient for a damaging, prolonged defense against superior enemies but they didn't have the weight for success in the attack for 1944 standards.
Where was the prolonged damaging defence ?

User avatar
Cult Icon
Member
Posts: 1714
Joined: 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Cult Icon » 28 Aug 2018 20:51

ridiculous question

Michael Kenny
Member
Posts: 6365
Joined: 07 May 2002 19:40
Location: Teesside

Re: Why the Waffen-SS

Post by Michael Kenny » 28 Aug 2018 21:09

It is a 'heads-I-win tails-you-lose argument.

The 'fantistic in defence' argument only works because Hitler forbade any retreat.
The Germans did not resist for 12 weeks because they had superior staying power but because they were forbidden under pain of death from retreating.
The Weekly Reports show that by early July German commanders were begging to be able to give up Caen and retreat in some semblance of good order. Common sense told them they had lost and staying to the 'last bullet' would invite disaster.
It was a Lunatic that ordered the stand in Normandy.
This much trumpeted 'tenacious defence' was nothing more than the ravings of a madman with no sense or logic to support it. It turned out to be a monumental mistake and when the line broke in August there was no plan B in place. It was a disastrous insane Campaign.

Return to “Heer, Waffen-SS & Fallschirmjäger”