The authors of The SS, were a collaboration of editors of Time-Life trying to show the factual evidence and knowledge of the SS with the least amount of biases and strict factual evidence. The first general consultant of the information, was Col. John R. Elting, a retired veteran of World War II. He was a former associate professor at West Point and wrote twenty other books about World War II. The other general consultant was George H. Stein who was a distinguished teaching professor of history at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. He, like Col. John R. Elting, wrote and translated many books on Hitler. He published numerous articles on modern European history, and served with the United States Air Force from 1953 to 1957. Also with a team of over twenty editors and another twenty correspondents around the world this book incorporates a comprehensive layout of the Schuzstaffel.
In summarizing the book the most effective method of doing so is to analyze the data by the organizational methods within the SS. The political fury of the misunderstood SS, followed different rankings from the general High Command to the training of the children in school. The book included in-depth insights on the subdivisions of the SS within the army core. German terminology flowed constantly from within the titles and ranks. Many graph and charts were also included depicting the command of the German Third Reich.
Of all the German organizations during WWII, the SS was by far the most infamous, and the least understood. The SS was in fact not a monolithic “Black Corps” of goose stepping Gestapo men, as is often depicted in popular media and in many third rate historical works. The SS was in reality a complex political and military organization made up of three separate and distinct branches, all related but equally unique in their functions and goals. The Allgemeine-SS (General SS) was the main branch of this overwhelmingly complex organization, and it served a political and administrative role. The SS-Totenkopfverbande (SS Deaths Head Organization) and later, the Waffen-SS (Armed SS), were the other two branches that made up the structure of the SS. The Waffen-SS, formed in 1940, was the true military formation of the larger SS. Formed from the SS-Verfungstruppe after the Campaign in France in 1940, the Waffen-SS became an elite military formation of nearly 600,000 men by the time WWII was over. Its units headed some of the most crucial battles of WWII while its men entered some of the most difficult combat operations of all the units in the German military. The Waffen-SS is sometimes thought of as the 4th branch of the German Wehrmacht (Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine) as in the field, it came under the direct tactical control of the OKW, even though strategic control remained within the hands of the SS. To this day the actions of the Waffen-SS and its former members are known for ultimately being a part of the larger structure of the political Allgemeine-SS, regardless of the fact that the Waffen-SS was a front line combat organization
The Reichsfuhrung-SS was the highest and most powerful SS office, essentially the SS high command. This office was run by the second most powerful person in the Third Reich, Heinrich Himmler, and as commander of the RF-SS, Himmler had control of the entire SS. Himmler answered to Hitler, as did all German commanders and leaders, but above all others, Himmler seemed to be a leader by himself. The Reichsfuhrung-SS was divided into two main parts, the Kommandostab Reichsfuhrung-SS and the Personlicher Stab Reichsfuhrung-SS. The Kommandostab Reichsfuhrung-SS was an executive administrative staff which was located at Himmler’s personal headquarters. During the War, the Kommandostab Reichsfuhrung-SS acted on a mobile basis under the title Feldkommadostelle Reichsfuhrung-SS and was setup like a military headquarters. As such, it acted as the Waffen SS High Command, in the way the Oberkommandos were the high commands for the other sections of the military. A number of independent combat and combat support units were attached to the Feldkommandostelle, such as signals, flak and police units. During the War, the Feldkommadostelle Reichsfuhrung-SS had many units. The Personlicher Stab Reichsfuhrung-SS was the second main part of the Reichsfuhrung SS and was basically Himmler’s personal staff. The Personlicher Stab Reichsfuhrung-SS was initially an organization consisting of advisory officials, the heads of the main SS departments, and members of other important offices. It worked as an advisory body to Himmler and the Reichsfuhrung SS, and also took care of any area not covered specifically by one of the other main departments. The Personlicher Stab Reichsfuhrung-SS was to become a specific main office within the RF-SS after 1940.
The daily management of the SS was run through the SS Hauptamter, or main departments. The Hauptamter were under the direct control of the Reichsfuhrung-SS and The Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler, but were otherwise in control of managing and running a particular aspect of the SS. The SS Hauptamt was the primary SS command organization before the War. It was formed on January 30th, 1935 from the original SS Amt (SS office) which controlled the SS in its early years. The SS Hauptamt controlled all areas of the SS not specifically controlled by any of the other main offices. The SS-HA initially controlled the Allgemeine SS, the concentration camps, the frontier and border personnel, and the political readiness detachments (which evolved into the SS Verfugungstruppe and later into the Waffen SS). From these, the SS-HA went on to control an even greater number of duties within the SS. In the late 1930’s, the SS Hauptamt was the largest and most powerful office of the SS, managing nearly all aspects of the SS. The title of Hauptamt, meaning simply, main office, showing the importance that this position held within the administration of the SS. With no other qualification in its title, this office was understood to be the most important of those in the SS.
When the SS grew much larger after 1940, the administration of the SS as a whole became more than the SS-HA could manage alone. As a result, the SS-HA was split up creating a number of new main offices. The Rasse-und Siedlungshauptamt was the Race and Settlement Department of the SS. It was made into a main office on January 30th, 1935 from the earlier Race and Settlement Office. The name was thus changed from office to department, along with other various structural changes. This department was also known as Rusha, and it acted as the supreme authority on matters dealing with the purity of SS members, on genealogy, lineage, marriage, and on matters dealing with the settlement of Germans into conquered areas.
The main office was the Reich Central Security Main Office, or RSHA. The RSHA was formed on September 27th, 1939, and was by far the most feared and the most sinister of all the main offices in the RF-SS. The RSHA was formed from two other existing main offices, the Hauptamt Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police Main Office) and the Sicherheits Hauptamt (Security Service Main Office). The Hauptamt Sicherheitspolizei controlled what was known as the Sipo, which consisted of the Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo (The Secret State Police) and the Kriminalpolizei or Kripo (The Criminal Police). The Sicherheitspolizei Hauptamt controlled the Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsfuhrers-SS or SD (Security Service of the Reichsfuhrer-SS). The above two offices and the security forces they controlled (Sipo consisting of the Gestapo and Kripo, and the SD), all became a part of the RSHA in 1939. The RSHA also formed and manned the most infamous “security” groups of the War, the Einsatzgruppen (Special Action Groups). The Einsatzgruppen were formed to gather Jews, partisans, and other peoples from the areas the armed forces conquered, and to murder them. During the War, the RSHA was always growing, adding new offices to its structure. Hauptamt Personlicher Stab Reichsfuhrer-SS was a main office was formed from the Personlicher Stab Reichsfuhrer-SS that was a part of the Reichsfuhrung-SS. When formed into a main office, the Hauptamt Personlicher Stab Reichsfuhrer-SS continued much the same as it had before it was a main office, taking care of protocol, matters of interest to Himmler, awarding decorations to SS men, and taking care of Himmler s personal correspondance. Matters that were important to Himmler consisted of his personal areas of interest, and these were things like press relations, Germanic cultural research, and the Lebensborn agency.
Hauptamt SS Gericht another main office was the office in charge of legal matters as they pertained to the SS and police. This main office was expanded from the original SS Gerichtsamt (SS legal office) that was originally attached to the SS Hauptamt. This office controlled the SS and police courts, the SS and police penal camps. It was responsible for preparing and prosecuting cases and for the execution of penal and disciplinary sentences, and for the remission of such sentences. It dealt with all areas related to law and legal matters within the SS. SS Pesonalhauptamt main office was formed on June 1st, 1939 from Himmler s personal staff. This office was in charge of the records for SS personnel, and was the ultimate authority responsible for all questions regarding SS Personal. The primary focus of this main office was with officers though. Once the book covered the material on the organization of the SS the creation of the SS Panzer division under Hitler was discussed.
Long before the NSDAP came to power in 1933, during the formative years of its existence, the elite of the party had formed special units whose sole purpose was to guard and protect those in command. The first record of any such unit was in the early days of the party when men of the 19th Trench Mortar Company, under the leadership of Ernst R hm, acted as a body guard unit during the first demonstrations and speeches by Hitler and other party members. This first grouping of men eventually was formed into the Sturmabteilung, or SA, which quickly began to grow. From the very beginning, Hitler viewed the SA as a potential threat as well as a useful tool. As a means to offset the growing power and potential threat of the SA, Hitler ordered the formation of special unit to be made up of loyal followers that would protect the NSDAP leadership. This special unit was formed with Julius Schreck and Joseph Berchtold as its members, and was named the Stabswache. Although this new formation was a unique and separate core group, it was still under the ultimate control of the SA. From its initial formation, the Stabswache was designed to be separate from the SA, even if still under its control. To this end, the basic uniform and insignia of the Stabswache were designed especially for the men of the unit, consisting at this time of the very first use of the Totenkopf, or Death’s Head, on the caps of the men, as well as a number of other details only the Stabswache had. Soon after formation, the Stabswache was renamed as the Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler.
On November 9th, 1923, the Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler, along with the SA and other NSDAP formations, took part in the attempted Putsch in Munich against the Weimar Republic. The Putsch failed and Hitler was jailed along with many other members, and the NSDAP was banned. The Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler was officially disbanded, as were all the formations of the NSDAP. The SA would continue to exist after the NSDAP was disbanded though, although under a new name, the Frontbahn, which was led by Ersnt R hm while much of the rest of the leadership was behind bars. Under R hm, the SA began to grow substantially, from about 2,000 members before the Putsch in November of 1923, to nearly 30,000 soon after.
When Adolf Hitler was released from jail in December of 1924, a gap between Hitler and Ernst R hm formed over the direction and the future of the SA. This gap would eventually lead to the murder of R hm during the turn around of the power structure of the SA in 1934, during the “Night of the Long Knives” in which a number of SA leaders were eliminated. As a result of this move, the SA, a once powerful paramilitary political force in the NSDAP structure, was destroyed. This would give the SA’s rival at the time, the SS, still unformed, the go-ahead to take center stage of the political and paramilitary information of the NSDAP, and by very extension, of the German Nation.
Soon after Hitler was released in 1924, a new unit was formed along the same lines as the original Stabswache and Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler. This new formation was once again named the Stabswache, but it was not formed under control of the SA, but as a completely separate unit. The new Stabswache was to consist of ultra devoted followers that could be relied upon under any circumstances to protect the NSDAP leadership and Hitler himself. Shortly after the formation of the new Stabswache, it was renamed as the Schutzstaffel. With the formation of the Schuzstaffel in 1925 there existed two competing and separate paramilitary political organizations within the NSDAP, The SA and the SS. It is from this point that the history of the Leibstandarte starts.
In 1933 the SS had grown to about 50,000 members. It was at this point, in the Spring of 1933, that a move was made to form an elite unit within the already elite SS. This elite of the elite was to be a new, special body guard unit, formed from hand picked SS men, to act as the special body guard of Hitler, and to be responsible only to his wishes. This new unit was named the SS-Stabswache Berlin. Shortly after its formation, later in 1933, it was redesignated as the SS-Sonderkommando Berlin.
On November 8 and 9th, 1933, the 10th anniversary of the failed Munich Putsch, the entire Adolf Hitler-Standarte took part in a mass oath taking rally, in honor of those killed in the 1923 uprising. The rally took place at the location of the Feldherrnhalle, erected on the spot where many of the party members had been killed during the Putsch. During this rally, each member personally swore his life to the F hrer. Also during this rally, the unit was again renamed, this time as the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.
In 1934, by order of Himmler, the initials “SS” were added to the Leibstandarte’s title, thus becoming the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Then in June 1934 the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler started action. As a result of a the political situation that had been growing within the NSDAP over Ernst R hm and his stated desire for a second revolution in Germany, with the ultimate creation of a true “People’s Army” in place of the regular armed forces, a move was made to remove the problematic heads of the SA. This action culminated in what is known as Die R hm Aff re and the Night of the Long Knives.
For its part in the move to quell the real and imagined threat within the ranks of the SA, two companies of the LSSAH were organized under the control of Otto Reich and J rgen Wagner. They were transferred from their barracks in Berlin to the countryside, and then to Munich, arriving there on the afternoon of the 30th of June. From there, a small group of men from the 2 companies present were sent to the Stadelheim prison to take part in the death by firing squad of a group of SA men who had been arrested and charged with treason and attempting to overthrow the State. The orders given to these men and the men of the LSSAH were followed without question, as they were expected to do by Hitler and leaders of the SS. Most of the men of the LSSAH actually remained in their barracks in Berlin during this time, only 2 companies being sent to Munich, but during the time of the R htm Affair, other small groups of men were selected from those still in barracks to take part in the killing of other various accused. When the R hrm Affair was officially over on the 13th of July, 1934, around 177 people had been executed and the SS had become a independent organization, no longer subordinate to the SA, and the wishful and seemingly problematic SA leader, Ernst R hm, had been eliminated. On the 26th of February, 1935, a small group of LSSAH men were sent into the Saarland as an advanced group, and soon after, on the 28th of February Bataillone stabs, were sent into the Saarland to take part in the festivities marking the recent return of the Saarland to Germany. Later on the 1st of March, other units of the LSSAH joined the rest of their unit in the Saarland.
After the Polish Campaign, the LAH was pulled back into Germany for rest and refitting. The LAH then took part in the Western Campaign, first against the Low Countries and then against France. The LAH was initially in Army Reserve, while one of its motorcycle battalions linked up with the Fallschrimjager troops that had jumped into Rotterdam. After a lull in action for the LAH, it fought against the shrinking beach-heads of the evacuating British Army at Dunkirk, but were only able to maintain pressure against their lines. During the second phase of the Campaign in France, the LAH was once again organized as an independent regiment, this time under 14 Armee Korps (mot). 14th Armee Korp initially attacked south from a bridge-head at Amiens, but was stopped by severe French resistance. After limited successes and little advance, the 14th Armee Korp was withdrawn and transferred 75 miles to the East. This time the attack was very successful and the 14th Armee Korps rapidly advanced, crossing the Seine River, and moving to cut the retreat of numerous French units at Loire. After the Armistice was signed ending the Campaign in the West, the 14th Armee Korps continued down the French coast to the border with Spain, securing the rest of occupied France.
After the Campaign in France ended, the LAH was stationed in France for rest and refitting. Initially, the LAH was going to be given a partial lead role in the planned invasion of England. To prepare for the upcoming invasion, the LAH trained extensively in amphibious warfare. In August, 1940, the LAH was raised to brigade status, although its title did not reflect this change. The invasion of England was canceled, and in March of 1941, the LAH was moved to Romania where it was to take part in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. Now under the 40th Armee Korps, the LAH first broke into Yugoslavia, met the retreating Italians, who the Germans were now rescuing, and then moved into Greece. The LAH then used a number of flanking maneuvers that continuously pushed the British further south into Greece, literally chasing them through Greece in 18 days. The LAH then crossed the Gulf of Corinth in fishing boats rather than follow the British to Thermopylae and managed to meet the retreating Allies on the Peloponnesus. By the end of April, the British had been forced into another situation like that at Dunkirk, this time at Kalamata, where they barely managed to retreat to the Island of Crete. After the successful Campaign in Yugoslavia and Greece, the LAH was refitted and brought up to Divisional status, but only in name, and then attached to the 54th Armee Korps for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The LAH was part of Amy Group South, and as such, did not itself see combat until it was used to assault the Tarter Ditch blocking the way into the Crimea. Next, LAH was transferred to Panzer Group 1 to take part in the massive encirclement of the Kiev Pocket. Still under Panzer Group 1, the LAH then took part in the drive on Rostov. The LAH took Rostov, but was forced out by Soviet counter-attacks, pushing the LAH back across the Mius River where it set up defensive positions. In the Summer of 1942, the severely mauled LAH was pulled back to Paris to refit, and was upgraded to a Panzer-Grenadier Division in name, although it had the strength of a full Panzer Division at the time. In 1943, the LAH was again recalled to the East Front where it took part in the massive battles for the recapture of Kharkov and in the largest tank battle in History during the epic struggle for Kursk in the Kursk Salient. After being stopped by fierce Soviet resistance in the Battle for Kursk, the LAH was pulled out and moved to Italy to be used in anti-partisan operations. Reequiped and renamed as a full Panzer Division the LAH was sent to rescue the crumbling situation on the Eastern Front. Another massive Soviet Winter offensive then managed to encircle the LAH, and a counter-attack by the II. SS-Panzer-Korps rescued the nearly destroyed LAH from certain death. Once again, the LAH was moved to France for rest and refitting.
After the D-Day invasion by the Allies on the Normandy coast in June, 1944, the LAH was committed in August to fighting in Caen, Falaise and Argentan. Continuously pushed back, the LAH was brought back behind the Siegfried Line in Germany. Parts of the LAH where then committed to the Battle for Aachen. In December, 1944, the LAH was attached to the I SS Panzer Korps for the Attack in the Ardennes region of France. Highly successful in that attack, elements of the LAH Panzer Division, namely Kamfgruppe Pieper, punched nearly all the way to the Meus River, being stopped only by blown bridges, lack of supplies and Allied Air power. After the failed attempt to punch through the Ardennes in France, the LAH was moved one last time to the East to confront the Soviets, this time in Hungary, and took part in the last official German offensive of the War in an attempt to rescue the besieged forces in Budapest. Failing that, the LAH was pulled back to Austria to await the coming Soviet onslaught. Soon after, the LAH moved itself into position in Austria to surrender itself to the Americans.
The conclusion of the book ended the well known surrender of the German forces to the Allies. With the end of the war the SS corruption and order fell apart, and lifting the oppression of the German people. I personally feel that this book though long showed a comprehensive look inside the SS and how it operated and how it fell apart only at the end of the war. With barely and biases the controversial moral attitudes were left behind.