The SS 1939-45

Edited by Chris McNab

This book presents the reader with the history of the SchutzStaffel. the infamous SS. The SS started as a personal bodyguard for Adolf Hitler. This bodyguard was recruited from hand-picked members of the SA under Ernst Rohem. The original bodyguard evolved into a larger body of troops as the Nazi Party grew in power and notoriety. When Heinrich Himmler was made head of the SS and the Police services, the SS began its growth in his personal army as opposed to the “thugs” of the SA.

Himmler began organizing the SS into an elite army separate from the Wehrmacht. This action brought opposition from the heads of the Army. Hitler played down this controversy by placing Himmler in charge of all Police functions in Germany and incorporating the SS into that organization.

In addition to the SS, Himmler was in control of the Gestapo (the Secret Police) and the normal police functions (the Ornungspolizei). This mollified the Generals, at least for the time being. The main focus of this volume is the organization and combat history of the Waffen SS. The first of these was Waffen SS Division Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler, which grew out of that original bodyguard unit. Other units were formed from the “good, Aryan” stock available in Germany.

Once this stock was generally depleted, the focus was on forming unit from the “Germanic” stock of the captured areas. These units were staffed by German officers and NCO’s. Most started out as Regiments which were incorporated into Kamfgruppen. These regiments eventually grew into battalions, and as the war progressed were given Division status with the incorporated Armor, Signals and Pioneer formations.

The battle histories of the individual units are followed in a series of chapters. Each chapter covers a portion of the war and details the combat operations of each of the units identified. As the war progressed, these units sustained heavy casualties and were recreated with conscripts of lesser quality than those with which they began the war.

As casualties mounted, more units were created, some from the lesser Germanic populations of the conquered territories and some from prisoners-of-war who “volunteered” to fight for the German State. While the SS units were involved in many of the atrocities committed against the Jews and other “undesirables” those units recruited from the local populations committed many more and many of the severest actions. Much of this was due to the prevailing attitudes of anti-semitism rampant in Europe before World War II.

The book makes certain political statements in the text that the SS units reflected not only the political statements of the Nazis, but also those attitudes that were prevalent in all of Europe during the Thirties. Part of the SS were the guards of the Concentration Camps, these units were recruited from the dregs of the SA thugs and set upon those poor unfortunates that were in the crosshairs of the regime.

This book is an essential volume for those interested in the history of the second World War, the Waffen SS carried much of the burden of the fighting, especially on the Eastern Front. This volume contains hundreds of photographs of units involved in combat and training. Many plates are scattered throughout the book showing uniform variations and regulations. Uniforms are not only those of the Waffen SS units but also those of the foreign units.

I recommend this book to figure modelers for the color plates and to diorama builders for the many photographs. As a history, I recommend this volume to all students of the second World War and to those who want a fuller description of the workings of the Waffen SS before and during the war.

Available from Osprey Publications for $40.00