Obergruppenführer was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that was first created in 1932 as a rank of the SA. Until 1942, it was the highest SS rank inferior only to Reichsführer-SS (Heinrich Himmler). Translated as "senior group leader", the rank of SA-Obergruppenführer was held by members of the Oberste SA-Führung (Supreme SA Command) and also by veteran commanders of certain SA-Gruppen (SA groups). The rank of Obergruppenführer was considered senior to Gruppenführer.
As an SS rank, Obergruppenführer was created due to the growth and expansion of the SS under Heinrich Himmler. Himmler was one of the first SS officers appointed to the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer, and held the rank while simultaneously serving as the Reichsführer-SS. At the time Himmler held the rank of Obergruppenführer, Reichsführer was simply a title and not yet an actual rank.
In the early days of the SS, the rank of Obergruppenführer was occasionally used to make two SS leaders equal in seniority, so as to prevent a power struggle within the Nazi Party. Such was the case with Kurt Daluege, who commanded most of the SS in the Berlin region between 1930 and 1934. To avoid having the SS split into two separate entities, one based in Northern Germany and the other in Bavaria, Adolf Hitler promoted Daluege to the new rank of Obergruppenführer making him equal in rank to Himmler.
After the Night of the Long Knives, the SS and the SA became two separate organizations. The SA continued to use the rank of Obergruppenführer, but the title gained predominance mainly in the SS. With the Nazi Party in power, and the SS a state agency of Germany, SS-Obergruppenführer was considered the highest rank of the Allgemeine SS (equivalent to lieutenant general on US and UK charts) with the exception of Himmler’s special rank of Reichsführer-SS. However, within the Waffen-SS, the rank of SS-Gruppenführer was equivalent to a Generalleutnant and a SS-Obergruppenführer came to be considered the equivalent of a General; holders were titled in full SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS.
Ninety-eight men were to hold SS-Obergruppenführer rank, 21 of whom served in the Waffen-SS. The rank would remain the highest SS general officer rank until April 1942, when the rank of SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer was created.
The rank of Obergruppenführer was held by some of the most notorious figures in the SS, with Reinhard Heydrich and Ernst Kaltenbrunner both bearing the rank. Karl Wolff was another holder of the rank who was captured alive by the Allies after the close of Second World War. SS-Obergruppenführer was also the standard rank for SS and Police Leaders as well as corps commanders of the Waffen-SS.
- Insignia of rank of SS-Gruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS
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