Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts

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Soldiers of the Légion des Volontaires Français, when still part of the Wehrmacht, later volunteers of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French).

The Waffen-SS (German for "Armed SS", literally "Weapon SS") was the combat arm of the Schutzstaffel ("Protective Squadron") or SS, an organ of the German Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to a force of over 39 divisions, which served alongside the regular army. It is not to be confused with units of the Allgemeine SS subordinate to the Wehrmacht. Waffen-SS was never formally part of the regular army. Although operational control of the Waffen-SS units on the front line was given to the Army's High Command, in all other respects they remained under the auspices of Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler's SS, and behind the lines these units were an instrument of political policy enforcement. It was Adolf Hitler's will that the Waffen-SS never be integrated into the Army. In 1940, Hitler gave permission for the first non-German Waffen-SS formation and by the end of the war, twenty five of the thirty eight Waffen-SS division were formed from foreign volunteers or conscripts, or around 60% of Waffen-SS members were non-German.

After the war, in the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organisation owing to its essential connection to the Party and its involvement in war crimes and the Holocaust. The exception made was for Waffen-SS conscripts sworn in after 1943, who were exempted owing to their involuntary servitude.

One of the lasting impacts for Nazi Germany's, The Third Reich and that it's legacy became more dependent on foreign forces of the SS to act as the last vanguard to hold on, and defend Germany to the very end. As the conclusion of World War II begin to unfold in the remaining years of 1944-45. The Waffen-SS had become a Pan-European fighting organization, still deadly, undaunted in it's belief's, and unquestionably the idealogical soldiers of Hitlers vast military machine. It was ironically the foreign Divisions of the Waffen-SS that stood to the last man during the Battle for Berlin, and in particular the French volunteer's of the 33. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr. 1) that stood fast, and fought until the remaining 80 men of the Division were decimated holding on to the Fuhrer Bunker against multiple attacks, by wave after wave of thousands of Soviet troops belonging to Soviet Marshal Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front that led the assault on Berlin.

SS Wiking[edit]

Recruitment poster for the Wallonien Brigade.

In late 1940, the creation of a multinational SS division, the SS Division Wiking, was authorised and command of the division was given to Brigadeführer Felix Steiner. Steiner organized the volunteer division, and soon[citation needed] advocated for an increased number of foreign units. The 5th SS Wiking was committed to combat several days after the launch of the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), proving itself an impressive[citation needed] fighting unit. It became both one of the established elite divisions and a model for what might be achieved through careful recruitment and training. Its ranks, however, never exceeded 40% "foreign" troops, relying heavily on German officers, non-commissioned officers and technical specialists to provide the major part of its strength.[1]

Further volunteers[edit]

Soon Danish, Belgian, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Dutch volunteer formations were committed to combat, generally proving their worth despite their limited numbers.[2] Himmler was allowed to create his new formations, but they were to be commanded by German officers and NCOs. Beginning in 1942-43, several new formations were built up from Croats, Latvians, Estonians and Ukrainians.[2] Himmler ordered that new Waffen-SS units formed with men of non-Germanic ethnicity were to be designated Division der SS or Division of the SS rather than SS Division. In some of these cases, the wearing of the SS runes on the collar was forbidden, with several of these formations wearing national insignia instead.[3]

Gottlob Berger sought to gain control of all foreign volunteer forces serving alongside Germany's Wehrmacht. This put the Waffen-SS at odds with the Army, as several volunteer units had been placed under Army control, for instance volunteers of the Spanish Blue Division. In several cases, such as the ROA and the 5.SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien, he was successful, and by the last year of the war most foreign volunteers units did fall under SS command.

While several volunteer units performed poorly in combat, the majority acquitted themselves well. French and Spanish SS volunteers, along with remnants of the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland formed the final defense of the Reichstag in 1945.

Among the more unusual units to exist in the Waffen-SS was the British Free Corps, a unit composed of citizens of the British Commonwealth. The historical number of British SS-volunteers (including an Irish brigade) vary from 30 to 1,500. It is suspected that in the aftermath of World War II, the British government and military historians kept the count artificially small. Initial efforts at organization of the BFC were made by John Amery and then taken over by the Waffen-SS. Amery was tried and convicted of treason by the British government after the war, and was executed in December 1945.[4][5]

Additionally, there were SS units and entire SS 'Foreign Legions' consisting primarily of Indian, Arabs, Tartars/Cossacks amongst others. A special case was the SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger that inofficially accepted common criminals on probation, Gypsies (Roma) and political prisoners willing to repent. Ultimately, a significant majority (approximately 60%) of men who volunteered and fought with the Waffen-SS over the course of the war were not ethnic Germans. The Waffen-SS even made allowances for religious traditions and beliefs with specialised uniforms and insignias, as well as providing spiritual guidance and service in non-Christian religions.

Conscript divisions[edit]

Soldiers from Estonia and Latvia were not volunteers[6] but conscripts which the German authorities had denied their wish to form national military units allied to Germany. Under such circumstances, these had either volunteered to the Wehrmacht and had later been forced into the Waffen-SS or were illegally conscripted by general mobilisations.[7] In an April 13, 1950 message from the U.S. High Commission in Germany (HICOG), signed by General Frank McCloy to the Secretary of State, clarified the US position on the "Baltic Legions": they were not to be seen as "movements", "volunteer", or "SS". In short, they were not given the training, indoctrination, and induction normally given to SS members. Subsequently the US Displaced Persons Commission in September 1950 declared that

The Baltic Waffen-SS Units (Baltic Legions) are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States.

The governments of the Baltic states and the people of Germany consider these men as freedom fighters against communism.[7]

List by nation and unit[edit]

Cossack members of the XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps in Warsaw during the uprising 1944
A Panzer III from SS "Wiking" in the summer of 1942; the divisional insignia can be seen on the tank's mudguard
Two early recruits to the BFC:SS-Mann Kenneth Berry and SS-Sturmmann Alfred Minchin, with German officers, April 1944
Members of the SS-Sonderregiment Dirlewanger in the window of a townhouse at 9 Focha Street, Warsaw, August 1944. In the glass reflection one can see details of the kamienica on the opposite side of the street at 8 Focha Street.
a soldier leading a team of two horses pulling a mountain gun up a hill
In mountainous terrain, the SS Volunteer Karstwehr Battalion relied on horses to transport mountain guns and other supplies.
Major Kalervo Kurkiala (left) Finnish SS battalion, a military liaison officer at his side, Hietaniemi cemetery, 19 September 1943
Pio Filippani Ronconi in the uniform of a foreign volunteer of the Waffen-SS. He is wearing the collar tabs of the 1st battalion of the Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 81 (ital Nr. 1).
Men of the Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS return home at the end of their contract

An estimated 325,000 to 500,000[8] non-ethnic German volunteers and conscripts served in the Waffen-SS:

Post war[edit]

After the surrender, many volunteers were tried and imprisoned by their countries. In several cases, volunteers were executed. Henri Joseph Fenet, one of the last recipients of the Knight's Cross was sentenced to 20 years of forced labour and released from prison in 1959.[30] Some were far less lucky and were shot upon capture by the French authorities. General Leclerc was famously presented with a defiant group of 11 or 12 captured 33rd SS Charlemagne men. The Free French General immediately asked them why they wore a German uniform, to which one of them replied by asking the General why he wore an American one; the Free French wore modified US Army uniforms. The group of French Waffen-SS men was then promptly executed without any form of military tribunal procedure.[31]

Walloon renowned leader Leon Degrelle escaped to Spain, where, despite being sentenced to death in absentia by the Belgian authorities, he lived in exile until his death in 1994.[32]

The men of the XV SS Cossack Corps found themselves in Austria at the end of the war and surrendered to British troops. Even though they were given assurances that they would not be turned over to the Soviets, they nevertheless were forcibly removed from the compound and transferred to the USSR. This event became known as the Betrayal of the Cossacks. Most of the Cossacks were executed for treason.[33][34]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Williamson, Gordon. "THE SS: HITLER'S INSTRUMENT OF TERROR". Motorbooks International. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  2. ^ a b Axis History. "Foreign volunteers". Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  3. ^ Eger, Christopher. Hitler's Foreign Legion: Waffen SS Non German Units in the Waffen SS During World War Two. 
  4. ^ Axis History. "Britisches Freikorps". Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  5. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (17 February 2008). "Oscar winner reveals the secret of pro-Nazi traitor". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-18. 
  6. ^ Robert Sturdevant (10 February 1944). "Strange Guerilla Army Hampers Nazi Defence of Baltic". Times Daily (Florence, Alabama). 
  7. ^ a b Laar, Mart (2005). "Battles in Estonia in 1944". Estonia in World War II. Tallinn: Grenader. pp. 32–59. 
  8. ^ Many joined the SS with a false name, others asked to be germanized, still others destroyed all papers, therefore the true numbers of foreign volunteers could be substantially higher. In the last days of the war, the Waffen-SS burned division records and gave out workers' passports to volunteers who wanted them.
  9. ^ The name comes from an Albanian national hero and military leader Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg (born approximately 1405, died on January 17, 1468), who led the anti-Turkish freedom fight.
  10. ^ a b Romuald Misiunas (Author), Rein Taagepera (Author), The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940-1990, University of California Press (1993), ISBN 978-0520082281
  11. ^ The battalion was praised by many Waffen-SS commanders, even Heinrich Himmler, for its combat performance. Himmler said "Where a Finnish SS-man stood, the enemy was always defeated." Neither the unit nor any of its members were ever accused of any "war crimes".
  12. ^ a b Source: Tim Ripley, The Waffen-SS At War: Hitler's Praetorians 1925-1945, 2004, ISBN 978-0760320686
  13. ^ This unit, the 8th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade France was led by a former Foreign Legionnaire, Obersturmbannführer Paul-Marie Gamory-Dubourdeau. The 1st battalion of about 1000 men was attached to SS Division Horst Wessel and sent to Galicia to fight the Soviet advance. In fierce fighting the battalion suffered heavy casualties.
  14. ^ 1 motorised infantry regiment (3 regiments from October 1944, but with French, Belgians and Spanish volunteers)
  15. ^ In the later stages of World War II Lainé decided to separate from Bagadou Stourm and integrate with the SS in the face of the assassination of several leading figures of the Breton cultural movement. One of those assassinated was priest and Breton language defender Abbé Jean-Marie Perrot, murdered by the communist terrorists of the French Resistance. The militia had originally been named Bezen Kadoudal, after the anti-Jacobin Breton rebel Georges Cadoudal. The 1943 assassination of the priest prompted Lainé to change the organization's name in honor of Perrot during December of that year. It had already been envisaged by German strategists that in the event of Allied invasion the Breton nationalists would form a rearguard, and that further nationalist troops could be parachuted into Brittany.[1] However, the rapid American advance from Normandy into Brittany forced the group to retreat along with the German army. In Tübingen many members were provided with false papers by Leo Weisgerber.[2] Following the war many of the organization's members, including Lainé, Heusaff and the nationalist poet Fant Rozec fled to Ireland.
  16. ^ At least 30,000 Georgians served in the German armed forces during World War II. The Georgians served in thirteen field battalions of up to 800 men, each made up of five companies. Georgians were also found in the Wehrmacht's North Caucasian Legion and in other Caucasian ethnic legions. The Georgian military formations were commanded by Shalva Maglakelidze, Michel-Fridon Zulukidze, Col. Solomon Nicholas Zaldastani and other officers formerly of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918–21).
  17. ^ SS-Waffengruppe "Georgien" was formed on December 11, 1944 and commanded by Waffen-Standartenfuhrer der SS Michail Pridon Tsulukidze.
  18. ^ The Litauisches Polizei Regiment 1 was formed in July 1944 and was only used as a front-line unit. It ist not sure if it belonged to the Wehrmacht or the Waffen-SS. It ended the war in the Courland pocket (German: Kurland-Kessel)
  19. ^ The Lithuanian units were often put under control of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA).
  20. ^ 40% of the members later went to the Waffen-SS in different divisions (mainly 5th, 15th, 19th, and 20th), the Lithuanians did not have their own Legion.
  21. ^ Until September 1944, Luxembourg was part of the German Empire, therefore the men were drafted into all German armed branches, no records were kept as "foreign fighters" because they were considered German.
  22. ^ The history of Poles in the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of National Socialist Germany, began with the German "Poland Campaign" in 1939. More than 225,000 citizens of the Polish Second Republic served in the Wehrmacht, and some in the Kriegsmarine and Waffen SS.
  23. ^ Fought in the Royal Yugosalv Army uniforms, but were under the command of the Waffen-SS.
  24. ^ Source: Heimdal "Dictionnaire historique de la Waffen SS", 1998.
  25. ^ The most Swedes served directly in the Finnish Army, one of the Axis powers and therefore allies of Germany. The last major fighting Sweden took part in was during the Napoleonic Wars. When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939 though, at least 10,000 men volunteered for service with the Finnish forces to fight against the Soviets. This number is especially significant because there were approximately 6.5 million people living in all of Sweden at the time. Sweden and Finland are both Northern European countries and had much in common, therefore, when the Soviets invaded, many Swedes felt compelled to join the Finnish Forces. Another at least 1,500 Swedes volunteered for service with Finland between 1941 and 1944.
  26. ^ The thousands of Swiss, who fought for Germany, mainly entlisted in the Wehrmacht instead of the Waffen-SS. The numbers for members of the Waffen-SS range between 300 and 2,000 depending on the source.
  27. ^ Robert A. Best in his book from 2010 The British Free Corps: The Story of the British Volunteers of the Waffen SS (ISBN 978-1904911906), lists the names of 165 BFC members, with their fates (where known). He also quotes a source which indicates that by January 1945, some 1,100 Britons had applied to join the formation. Additionally, there was also an SS Irish Brigade, which was about 400 men strong.
  28. ^ In March of 1945, a BFC detachment was deployed with with the 11th Waffen-SS division "Nordland," which was composed largely of Scandinavian volunteers. Although most of the Corpsmen were dispersed throughout the division, a squad-sized unit was assigned to the 3rd company of the reconnaissance battalion, which consisted primarily of Swedish SS men. The BFC contingent was commanded by SS-Scharfuehrer "Hodge." ("Scharfuehrer" is sergeant; "Hodge" is mostly likely a nom de guerre and not his real name.) Richard W. Landwehr Jr. reports (Britisches Freikorps: British Volunteers of the Waffen-SS 1943-1945, ISBN 978-1475059243) , "The Britons were sent to a company in the detachment that was situated in the small village of Schoenburg near the west bank of the Oder River (p. 83)." On March 22, as the company was entrenching, it was partially overrun by an advance element of the Red Army which had blundered into its position by accident. Although taken by surprise, the SS troopers, including the BFC volunteers, quickly regained their wits and launched a vigorous counterattack, driving off the Soviets. One BFC fighter, a Cornishman named Kenneth Edward Berry, was captured during the brief but fierce battle, and was subsequently interned. Another Corspman who distinguished himself during the battle for Berlin was Eric Pleasants, of Norwich. Pleasants is easily the most colorful figure in a formation that was full of colorful figures. Before the War he had been a Blackshirt security officers in Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Unwilling to fight against Germany when war broke out, he aligned himself with the Peace Pledge Union, and was assigned agricultural work on the Channel Islands as an alternative to military service. Pleasants was interned with the other adult males when the Germans occupied the islands in 1940. He was an early volunteer in the BFC. Pleasants was naturally strong and athletic, and he had an iron constitution. He had experience in boxing, wrestling and the Oriental martial arts. Unsurprisingly, he became the physical instructor for the BFC. As part of his duties, he represented the BFC in exhibition boxing matches with the other Germanic SS units, and in time became the middleweight boxing champion of the SS. During the climactic battle for Berlin, he managed to fight his way through the Soviet encirclement, killing two Communist soliders in hand-to-hand fighting in the process. He surrendered to the Americans, but after further adventures, he was interned by the Russians and spent seven years in a Siberian slave labor camp. Shortly before his death, he returned to England and died peacefully in Hethel, near his home town of Norwich, at age 87.
  29. ^ At least eight American volunteers are known to have been killed during their service in the Waffen-SS. They were Francesco Mattedi, a soldier in the Italian SS Division who killed in Nettunia, 30 April 1944; Charles MacDonald, KIA near Johvi/Estonia, 14 March 1944; Raymond George Rommelspacher, died in Normandy/France, 6 October 1944, Edwin/Erwin Peter, KIA in Latvia, 2 July 1941; Andreas Hauser, died in Welikij in Ukraine, 18 January 1945; Lucas Diel, died on 9 December 1944 in Hungary; and Andy Beneschan, KIA in Bosnia, 16 April 1945. There were also numerous German-Americans who served in the Wehrmacht and as Waffen-SS officers during World War II. Among others were SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Awender, a medical doctor in the SS ‘Frundsberg’ Division who born in Philadelphia in 1913; SS-Untersturmführer Robert Beimes, a signal officer in the SS ‘Hitlerjugend’ Division, born in San Francisco in 1919. His father was a translator in the SD; SS-Hauptsturmführer Eldon Walli, born in New York City in 1913 in the SS-Kriegsberichter Abteilung (war reporters); and SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Winckler-Theede, born in New York City in 1912 and served as a military judge in the SS ‘Das Reich’ Division.
  30. ^ "Ritterkreuzträger Henri Joseph Fenet" (in German). Retrieved 10 November 2008. 
  31. ^ This incident took place May 8, 1945, at Bad Reichenhall in Bavaria
  32. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. "Leon Degrelle". Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  33. ^ Chereshneff, Colonel W.V. (1952), The History of Cossacks, Rodina Society Archives 
  34. ^ Roberts, Andrew (June 4, 2005), BLOOD ON OUR HANDS;, The Daily Mail