SS insignia worn on the helmets of SS-Verfügungstruppe.
|Role||Schnelltruppen (Mobile troops)|
Brigadeführer Paul Hausser|
Oberführer Felix Steiner
Obergruppenfuhrer Sepp Dietrich
On 17 August 1938 Adolf Hitler decreed that the SS-VT was neither a part of the police nor the German Wehrmacht, but military-trained men at the disposal of the Führer in war or peace. The men were to be trained in accordance with the rules of the SS and manned by volunteers who had completed their service in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (or RAD, Reich Labour Service).
The SS-VT was formed on 24 September 1934 from a merger of various Nazi and paramilitary formations such as the SS Special Detachments (SS-Sonderkommandos) and the Headquarters Guard (SS-Stabswache) units. The SS-VT was to be made up of three regiments modeled on the infantry regiments of the German Army (Heer) and according to their regulations. Each regiment would contain three battalions, a motorcycle company and mortar company. The unit was officially designated SS-Verfügungstruppe ("Dispositional troops", i.e. troops at the personal disposal of the Führer). The formation was to be placed at the "disposal" of the army in time of war. The existence of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) was publicly declared on 16 March 1935 by Hitler in a speech at the Reichstag.
The SS-VT trained alongside Hitler's personal body guard the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH), which after 13 April 1934, was known as the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). The LSSAH continued to serve exclusively as a personal protection unit and honor guard during this timeframe.
The military formations under Himmler's command on 1 September 1939 consisted of several subgroups:
- Hitler's bodyguard unit the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler under Obergruppenführer Josef "Sepp" Dietrich.
- The Inspectorate of Verfügungstruppe under Gruppenführer Paul Hausser, which commanded the Deutschland, Germania and Der Führer regiments.
- The Concentration Camps Inspectorate (Inspektion der Konzentrationslager) under Gruppenführer Theodor Eicke, which fielded four militarized Death's-Head Standarten comprising camp guards of the SS-Totenkopfverbände. These would be formed into a division after the conquest of Poland, and folded into the Waffen-SS in August 1940. These troops wore the SS-TV skull and crossbones rather than the SS-VT "SS" runes.
- There were in addition combat-trained non-SS police units of Obergruppenführer Kurt Daluege's Ordnungspolizei which reported to Himmler in his capacity as Chief of German Police. For the 1940 campaigns these also would be formed into a division, which would be placed under Waffen-SS control in January 1941 and merged into it in February 1942.
Elements of the SS-VT served with the Wehrmacht during the occupation of the Sudetenland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. For those operations, the SS-VT was under the command of the army. The SS-VT also formed an Artillery Regiment during this timeframe which was used to fill the gaps in a number of army units for those events. The SS-VT regiments Deutschland and Germania along with the Leibstandarte participated in the invasion of Poland, with Der Führer (recruited in Austria after the Anschluss) in reserve at Prague. In September 1939, a combined unit of SS-VT and Heer (Army) troops conducted operations as Panzer Division Kempf during the invasion of Poland. It fought alongside Army units at Rozan, Modlin, Łomża and Kmiczyn. The division was disbanded near the Polish city of Nidzica on 7 October 1939.
Events during the invasion of Poland raised doubts over the combat effectiveness of the SS-VT. Their willingness to fight was never in any doubt; at times they were almost too eager to fight. The OKW or Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Armed Forces) reported that the SS-VT had unnecessarily exposed themselves to risks and acted recklessly, incurring heavier losses than Army troops. They also stated that the SS-VT was poorly trained and its officers unsuitable for command. In its defence the SS-VT insisted that it had been hampered by fighting piecemeal instead of as one formation, and being improperly equipped to carry out what had been required of it. Heinrich Himmler insisted that the SS-VT should be allowed to fight in its own formations, under its own commanders, while the OKW tried to have the SS-VT disbanded altogether. Hitler chose a compromise path. He ordered that the SS-VT form its own divisions but the divisions would be under army command.
Development of the Waffen-SS
In the wake of the Polish Invasion, there were four SS combat regiments: Leibstandarte, Deutschland, Germania and Der Führer. The latter three were reorganized into the SS-Verfügungs-Division, and the Leibstandarte was expanded into a motorized brigade. In addition there were the armed but ill-trained Totenkopfstandarten; three of these together with SS Heimwehr Danzig were organized into the Totenkopf-Division under Eicke's command. A further division, the Polizei-Division, was created from the Ordnungspolizei. These formations took part in Operation Fall Gelb against the Low Countries and France in 1940.
The SS-VT troops first saw action in the main drive for the Dutch central front around Rotterdam. After the city had been captured, the Division, along with other divisions, intercepted a French force and forced them back to the area of Zeeland and Antwerp. They were next used to mop-up small pockets of resistance in the areas already captured by the German advance.
The SS-VT was renamed the "Waffen-SS" in a speech made by Adolf Hitler in July 1940; on 1 August Himmler established the Kommandoamt der Waffen-SS (Waffen-SS Command Office) within the new SS-Führungshauptamt (FHA) under Gruppenführer Hans Jüttner. The Totenkopf Division and other SS-TV combat units were transferred to FHA control.
In December 1940 the Germania Regiment would be removed from the Verfügungs-Division and used to form the cadre of a new division, SS-Division Germania, comprising mostly "Nordic" volunteers from the newly conquered territories, Danes, Norwegians, Dutch and Flemings; it was soon renamed Wiking. At the start of 1941 the Verfügungs-Division would be redubbed "Reich" (in 1942 "Das Reich"), and the Polizei division brought under Waffen-SS administration. The Leibstandarte would be expanded to a division for Operation Barbarossa.
When the Waffen-SS divisions were assigned numbers much later in the war these first formations, Leibstandarte, Das Reich, Totenkopf, Polizei and Wiking would be recognized as SS divisions 1 through 5.
Notes and references
- Mollo, Andrew (1991), Uniforms of the SS: Volume 3: Verfügungstruppe 1933-1939, Windrow & Greene, p. 3, ISBN 1-872004-51-2
- Waffen-SS at Encyclopædia Britannica
- Mollo, Andrew (1991), Uniforms of the SS: Volume 3: Verfügungstruppe 1933-1939, p. 3
- Cook, Stan and Bender, R. James. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler - Volume One, R. James Bender Publishing, 1994, p 19
- Organisationsbuch der NSDAP, 3rd Ed. (1937) p. 424
- Equivalent to a full General. The independence of the LSSAH can be partly explained by Dietrich's rank, as well as his personal friendship with Hitler
- Only the 1st (Oberbayern), 2nd (Brandenburg) and 3rd (Thüringen) TK-Standarten were formed into the Totenkopf division. The 4th (Ostmark) was assigned to occupation duties until it was incorporated into the 2nd SS Infantry Regiment in preparation for Barbarossa. http://sturmvogel.orbat.com/ss-tk.html
- Mollo, Andrew (1991), Uniforms of the SS: Volume 3: Verfügungstruppe 1933-1939, p. 4
- Flaherty, T.H (2004) . The Third Reich: The SS. Time-Life Books, Inc.. ISBN 1-84447-073-3. p 149
- Flaherty, T.H (2004) . The Third Reich: The SS. Time-Life Books, Inc.. ISBN 1-84447-073-3.
- Windrow, Martin & Burn, Cristopher (1992). The Waffen-SS, Edition 2. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-425-5.
- Ripley, Tim. The Waffen-SS at War: Hitler's Praetorians 1925-1945 (2004) p. 52 .
- The Polizei division only formally become part of the SS in February 1942; until then its members continued to wear Ordnungspolizei insignia and it did not include "SS" in its name.
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