Germany: SS Divisions World War II
v.1.0 May 12, 2002
Please visit this extensive site on the German Army of World War II for more details, including complete lists of divisional units and commanders.
The site reminds us that though they are reviled to this day because of their association with the notorious SS, the Waffen SS divisions were purely professional army units without connection to the secret police. Even those of us who have extensively read the history of World War II will be surprised to see just how many SS divisions were raised. A few like the Leibstandarte, Das Reich, Tottenkopf, Wiking, and Hitler Jugend are familiar names, but the rest of the 40 odd are unknown. Many of them were formed from men of countries Hitler overran or allied with. Even the Indian army contributed to the non-German forces: deserters to the Indian National Army who found their way to Fortress Europa formed the 950th Infantry Regiment in 1944, after the unit was released from the regular German Army.
More than any other war, World War II is full of “ifs” – if Hitler had done this and not that, might he have won the war? Looking at this long list of divisions gives rise to two “ifs”.
What might have been the benefits for the regular German Army if the SS had not created this vast parallel structure? Surely, it would have been strengthened and therefore more effective. Of course, this is hypothetical: Hitler clearly wanted a large armed force loyal to him alone and outside the control of the German Army.
The second “if” might seem to have a better basis. If the SS divisions, so near and dear to Hitler, were so full of foreigners, why could the Germans not have treated their vassal states more kindly and used more of their men in the war? The Ukrainians alone might well have provided another 50 divisions worth of troops to the Germans had the conquerors returned to them the independence from Russia they had lost 350 years ago.
Here also, however, the “if” is not realistic. For the Germans, the war in the east was not just about defeating Bolshevik Russia. It was a war of racial extermination that designated non-Germans as something less than human. The German Army was convinced it would bring Russia to its knees before the winter of 1941 set in; no perception existed, then, that the manpower of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States was needed to fulfill German purposes. When you war to eliminate the Slavs, of whatever political persuasion, you don’t ally to them. The Slavs in the SS were an aberration, and we are sure each of the foreign divisions has its own fascinating story of how they came to be raised in the first place.
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