The German SS/Waffen-SS in WWII
Of all the German organizations during WWII, the SS is by far the most
infamous - and the least understood amongst average historians. 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
politicial 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, and as such, it is the main focus of this section.
Formed from the SS-Verfungstruppe after the Campaign in France in 1940,
the Waffen-SS would become an elite military formation of nearly 600,000
men by the time WWII was over. Its units would spearhead some of the most
crucial battles of WWII while its men would shoulder some of the most
difficult and daunting combat opertations 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, although this
notion is technically incorrect as strategic control remained within the
hands of the SS. To this day the actions of the Waffen-SS and its former
members are vilified 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.