The Waffen-SS was the combat wing of the Nazi Party's Schutzstaffel, as well as the multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of Nazi Germany. Throughout the length of the war it would go from a shabby fighting force to the most brutal, feared, and detested military organization in the world.
The Waffen-SS started from three regiments and expanded to over 38 divisions during World War II, serving alongside the Wermacht, but never officially becoming part of it. Adolf Hitler resisted assimilating the Waffen-SS into the army as it was supposed to become a specialized police force at the end of the war. Prior to the war it was under the command of Heinreich Himmler, but upon mobilization control was given to the German High Command.
In the attack on Poland in September of 1939, the Waffen-SS was tactically inferior to the Wermacht and suffered comparatively large losses. They partially made up for this during the attack on France in the spring of 1940, where they were exceptionally successful. After the latter event, another division was ordered to be created. Hitler accredited this achievement to what he called a “fierce will – the sense of superiority personified.”
In mid-1941, on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, the Waffen-SS numbered just 160,000. It had six divisions (Leibstandarte, Das Reich, Totenkopf, Polizei, Wiking and Nordland). It was reserved to play a major part in the attack on Russia, and Himmler had made it plain what was expected of them.
Hitler had already told his Wehrmacht generals that the attack on Russia was to be carried out with “unprecedented, unrelenting and unmerciful harshness.” The Waffen-SS made its name in Russia for its unwavering determination in attack and its cruelty to prisoners and civilians. It was also during the Russian campaign that Hitler started a major expansion of the Waffen-SS so that it went from six divisions to nearly forty; 200,000 men to over 1,000,000.
In January 1942, Hitler authorized Himmler to begin creating new Waffen-SS units, however, the manpower was simply not available and young native Germans were conscripted – despite the protests of parents and from the Wehrmacht. The original pedigree of Himmler’s idea for the SS was being diluted. He wanted ideologically pure volunteers; those who were willing to fight and die for the cause. Now, the new units were being made up of conscripts. Along with this, Waffen-SS units were made up of men from Eastern Europe. This went entirely in the face of Nazi racial purity, but they were greatly needed to fight the Partisans who were becoming more and more successful in...