When Hitler assumed the Chancellorship on 30 January 1933, he felt that he could not rely entirely on the traditional Reichswehr and police guards appointed by the state to protect him. Consequently, he quickly issued instructions for the formation of a new full-time armed SS unit whose sole function would be to escort him at all times, whether in Berlin or on his official journeys throughout Germany. The task of forming the unit was entrusted to ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, who by that time had risen to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer through his position as one of Hitler’s closest personal friends.

By 17 March 1933, Dietrich had handpicked 120 loyal SS volunteers, including a few former members of the Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler, to become the nucleus of a new headquarters guard called the SS Stabswache Berlin. They were armed with rifles and initially quartered in the Alexander Barracks on Friedrichstrasse, not far from Hitler’s official residence, the Reich Chancellery. In May, the Stabswache was enlarged and reformed as the SS Sonderkommando Zossen, with three training companies which had their instructors drawn from the army and police rather than the Allgemeine-SS. In addition to guard duties, this ‘Special Force’ could now also be used for armed police and anti-terrorist tasks. The following month, three new companies were recruited as the SS Sonderkommando Jüterbog, and at the NSDAP party rally in September 1933 both detachments were merged into a single formation and renamed the ‘Adolf Hitler Standarte’. On 9 November, in front of the Munich Feldherrnhalle, the Standarte took a personal oath of loyalty to its Führer and was renamed the Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’, or LAH, which may best be translated as the ‘Adolf Hitler’ Life Guards, invoking memories of the famed Imperial Royal Bodyguard Regiments. There could now be no doubt that these men, unlike the soldiers of the Reichswehr, were Hitler’s personal troops.

As an SS unit, the Leibstandarte theoretically came under Himmler’s overall control. However, in practice, Hitler considered himself to be the ultimate director of its actions. That fact, combined with Dietrich’s friendship with Hitler, which the guard commander exploited to the full, ensured that the Leibstandarte enjoyed a fair measure of independence within the SS organisation. Indeed, the prewar Leibstandarte, which was on the national budget rather than that of the NSDAP, ultimately became in Himmler’s own words ‘a complete law unto itself’. Dietrich frequently argued with the Reichsführer, whom he addressed as an equal, a luxury enjoyed by very few SS officers.

At the end of 1933, the LAH moved into quarters at Berlin-Lichterfelde from where squads of troops were sent to the Reich Chancellery on a rota basis to provide a smart, impressive and effective bodyguard for the Führer. They were given their own, then very distinctive, insignia of un-numbered SS runes on the right collar patch and a cuff title bearing the name ‘Adolf Hitler’. The Leibstandarte came to be in exclusive prominence around Hitler, its men serving not only as his guards but also as his adjutants, drivers, servants and waiters. Their ceremonial activities ultimately became almost legendary, and their performance on the drill square and at Nazi rallies, where they consistently held the place of honour at the end of the parade, was second to none.


Fanfare trumpeters of the Leibstandarte at the opening ceremony of the Berlin Horse Show in 1934. The banners were produced between September and November 1933, when the unit was called the ‘Adolf Hitler Standarte’. It is noteworthy that the man in the foreground has attached the banner to his trumpet the wrong way round, making the death’s head appear to face backwards rather than forwards.

By 6 March 1934, the Leibstandarte comprised 986 men, of whom 45 were not members of the Nazi party, having been recruited directly from the military or police. The unit also included a number of non-Germans, such as thirty Austrian Nazis whose political beliefs had obliged them to leave their homeland for Germany. On 24 May, Himmler agreed to Dietrich’s request that the LAH should use army, rather than SS, terminology to describe its constituent components. Thus ‘Bataillon’ and ‘Kompanie’ began to replace ‘Sturmbann’ and ‘Sturm’. On 30 June 1934, the Leibstandarte helped to quell the Röhm putsch and was largely responsible for the killing of many of Hitler’s enemies in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. Most of those arrested were taken to the Lichterfelde Barracks which became a clearing house for unwanted people and corpses. It is not known precisely how many ‘enemies of the state’ were shot by the Leibstandarte firing squads, but it is thought that some forty executioners were involved. The shooting finally ended on 2 July, and the Leibstandarte’s first action was over. It had carried out Hitler’s orders to the letter. The Führer promoted Dietrich to SS-Obergruppenführer and also upgraded by one rank all members of the Leibstandarte who had played an active part in the Röhm affair. The ‘Night of the Long Knives’ saw a dramatic change take place, not only between the SA and the SS, but between the Allgemeine-SS and the armed SS detachments. One of the first outward signs of this shift was the changing of the guard outside Gestapo HQ, where the SA-Feldjägerkorps and Allgemeine-SS sentries were replaced by men of the LAH. Similar changes took place at other important locations across the Reich.


Leibstandarte sentries at the courtyard entrance to the new Reich Chancellery, November 1938. The LAH, being a guards regiment, spent much of its prewar time on ceremonial duties for which distinctive white leather equipment comprising waist belt, cross-strap, ammunition pouches, bayonet frog, pistol holster and pack straps, was introduced in stages from 1936. The police wore similar white leathers on parade.

Early in October 1934, it was decided that the Leibstandarte should be motorised, a rare honour in days when most of the Reichswehr was still horse-drawn. By the beginning of 1935, the strength of the LAH had risen to 2,551 men, and it became a regiment in fact as well as in name, divided into:

1 × staff

3 × motorised infantry battalions

1 × motorcycle company

1 × mortar company

1 × signals platoon

1 × armoured car platoon

1 × regimental band

It was a relatively short step from being equipped and trained for anti-terrorist police duties to being organised for military activities and the Leibstandarte was soon wearing field-grey. Given its largely ceremonial background, it is surprising just how quickly the LAH developed into a first-class military unit and how far it assimilated itself within the rest of the armed SS. On 1 March 1935 the 5th Company, under SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Mohnke, marched into Saarbrücken on the return of the Saarland to Germany. Three years later, the Leibstandarte took a prominent part in the annexation of Austria. It moved through Linz, where it provided a guard of honour for Hitler, and on to Vienna, taking part in the triumphal celebrations there. The Austrian operation saw the LAH covering no less than 600 miles in some 48 hours in full co-operation with the army, a high military ability which earned the favourable recognition of no less a commander than General Guderian. In October 1938, the Leibstandarte participated in the occupation of the Sudetenland, and again the whole event proceeded smoothly.

All elements of the Leibstandarte, except for the ceremonial Guard Battalion and a replacement unit, were to take part in the opening stages of the Second World War. As the first armed SS unit, the LAH was destined to hold a proud place as the oldest and smartest formation in the Waffen-SS, and was to earn itself a formidable fighting record at the front.

At the same time as the infant Leibstandarte was being formed to protect Hitler, other small groups of armed SS men were set up all over Germany as a means of bolstering the new régime in the event of civil unrest or counter-revolution. As a general rule, each SS Abschnitt recruited its own Kasernierte Hundertschaft of 100 or so barracked troops, and several of these were amalgamated in key areas to become company-or even battalion-sized Politische Bereitschaften, or PBs, Political Reserve Squads. The entire country was eventually covered by a network of PBs, some of which played a significant part in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. On 24 September 1934, Hitler announced that the Politische Bereitschaften were to be brought together and expanded into a new force to be called the SS-Verfügungstruppe or SS-VT, political troops at the special disposal of the Nazi régime. The SS-VT would be formed on the basis of three Standarten modelled on army infantry regiments, each to comprise three battalions, a motorcycle company and a mortar company. In addition, an SS-VT signals battalion would act in a supporting role. The new formation was to be under the command of the Reichsführer-SS for internal security duties, except in time of war when it would be at the disposal of the army.


A Leibstandarte battalion parades past Hitler on his forty-ninth birthday, 20 April 1938. Note the white leather gauntlets worn by the officers in the colour party.

The picture of a new and élite force attracted many ex-officers into the ranks of the Verfügungstruppe. SA-Standartenführer Paul Hausser, a former Reichswehr general, was recruited by Himmler to organise the SS-VT and instil some military know-how into the fledgling SS soldiers. In October 1934 a cadet school was opened at Bad Tölz, and early the following year Hausser took personal charge of a second officer training establishment at Braunschweig. Hausser’s solid groundwork attracted a sufficient number of ex-army and police officers, redundant Reichswehr sergeant-majors and young military enthusiasts to form the officer and NCO cadres of the future Waffen-SS. The cadres were distributed to the scattered SS-VT battalions and these were gradually formed into regiments. In Munich, three Sturmbanne amalgamated to become SS-Standarte 1/VT, organised and equipped as a horse-drawn infantry regiment. It was given the honour title ‘Deutschland’ at the Nürnberg Rally in September 1935. Members subsequently wore the SS runes alongside the number ‘1’ on the right collar patch, and a ‘Deutschland’ cuff title. In Hamburg, another three Sturmbanne duly came together to constitute SS-Standarte 2/VT, which was named ‘Germania’ at Nürnberg in September 1936. The regimental uniform was characterised by an ‘SS 2’ collar patch and ‘Germania’ cuff title.


A battalion of the SS-VT Standarte ‘Deutschland’ marching past Hitler in 1937. Swallow’s nests distinguish the regimental bandsmen in the foreground.

On 1 October 1936, Hausser was appointed Inspector of Verfügungstruppe with the rank of SS-Brigadeführer. He created a divisional staff to supervise the equipping and training of his troops and avidly welcomed newcomers who brought the promise of a certain dynamism to the SS-VT. Foremost among these was SS-Sturm-bannführer Felix Steiner, an ex-Reichswehr officer whose experiences on the western front in the First World War had turned him against the conservative doctrines of Hausser and the army. He favoured the tactics of assault detachments, shock troops and mobile battle groups, to escape from the deadly immobility of trench warfare with one mass army facing another in a mutual battle of attrition. Steiner was given command of the SS-VT Standarte ‘Deutschland’, and he tried out his reforms with one of its battalions, the training of which centred on sports and athletics. Officers, NCOs and men competed in teams against each other, to promote a spirit of comradeship and eliminate differences in rank. Experiments were carried out with camouflage clothing, and Steiner replaced the army’s regulation rifle with handier and more mobile weapons, primarily submachine-guns and hand grenades. Soon even the Wehrmacht’s eyebrows rose as Steiner’s troops covered almost two miles in twenty minutes in battle order, for such a thing was unheard of. Steiner implanted in his men the idea that they were a military élite, and the success of his modernisation was so obvious that the Verfügungstruppe began to look upon him as their real commander. According to a somewhat jealous Hausser, Himmler considered Steiner to be ‘his very favourite baby’.


Hilmar Wäckerle, commander of Sturmbann I, SS-VT Standarte ‘Germania’, as depicted by Wolfgang Willrich in 1936. Note the ‘SS/small 2’ collar patch. Wäckerle had formerly been the guard commander at Dachau concentration camp, and in 1938 transferred to the ‘Der Führer’ regiment to lead its 3rd battalion. He was later killed in action while commanding ‘Westland’ on the eastern front.

After the annexation of Austria in March 1938, in which ‘Germania’ participated alongside the Leibstandarte, Hitler ordered that a new SS-VT Standarte be formed entirely from Austrian personnel, either newly recruited or transferred from other SS units. The resultant regiment was given the honour title ‘Der Führer’ at the Nürnberg Rally in September that year, and members were distinguished by an appropriately named cuff title and ‘SS 3’ collar patch.

During the mobilisation preceding the occupation of the Sudetenland in October 1938, ‘Deutschland’ and ‘Germania’ were placed under the command of the army and took part in the operation. All the SS-VT Standarten became motorised regiments at the end of the year, and in the spring of 1939 were used to fill the gaps in a number of armoured divisions which invaded Czechoslovakia. In May, ‘Deutschland’ went on exercise at the Münsterlager training area where it carried out extremely tough and hazardous manoeuvres using live am-munition. Hitler, who was present together with the Reichsführer, was so impressed that he gave his permission for the expansion of the SS-Verfügungstruppe into a full division. The idea was temporarily postponed, however, as units of the SS-VT were integrated with those of the army in preparation for the attack on Poland. By the outbreak of the Second World War, the SS-VT comprised not only the ‘Deutschland’, ‘Germania’ and ‘Der Führer’ Standarten, but also an artillery regiment; SS-Regiment z.b.V. ‘Ellwangen’ for special deployment; a signals battalion; a pioneer battalion; the so-called SS-Sturmbann ‘N’ which was garrisoned at Nürnberg and provided a guard at the annual Nazi party rallies; a reconnaissance battalion; an anti-aircraft machine-gun battalion; and an anti-tank battalion. There were also a number of replacement units, or Ersat-zeinheiten, whose purpose was to make good any wartime losses suffered by the SS-VT.


NCOs and men of Sturmbann III, SS-VT Standarte ‘Germania’, outside their barracks at Radolfzell in 1938.

The SS-Verfügungstruppe provided valuable military experience for many SS officers who were later to become prominent personalities in the divisions of the Waffen-SS.

Alongside the Leibstandarte and SS-VT grew a third militarised branch of the SS with a somewhat darker purpose. In March 1933, Himmler set up the first SS-run concentration camp at Dachau to accommodate 5,000 of the 27,000 potential ‘enemies of the state’ arrested by the SA and SS after the Reichstag fire. Men of the local Allgemeine-SS from Munich were seconded to a new SS-Wachverbände, or Guard Unit, under SS-Oberführer Theodor Eicke to supervise the inmates of Dachau, who were to be incarcerated on a long-term basis. By the summer of 1934, most of the semiofficial and often ad hoc SA detention camps throughout Germany had been closed, and as a direct result of the ‘Night of the Long Knives’, during which Eicke personally killed Ernst Röhm, the remaining camps were removed from the jurisdiction of the SA and civil authorities and were permanently taken over by the SS.

At first, the SS-Wachverbände staffing the concentration camps were lightly armed and were used by the Allgemeine-SS as depositories for poor quality and unwanted personnel. Eicke, however, turned Dachau into a model camp, and in July 1934 he was promoted to SS-Gruppenführer and made Inspector of Concentration Camps with the task of improving the discipline and morale of the SS-Wachverbände. This he accomplished with some considerable success. By March 1935, with new camps opening up on a regular basis to accommodate more and more prisoners, the Wachverbände had expanded to incorporate the following company-sized units, each assigned to a particular camp:

SS-Wachtruppe ‘Oberbayern’ at Dachau

SS-Wachtruppe ‘Ostfriesland’ at Esterwegen

SS-Wachtruppe ‘Elbe’ at Lichtenburg

SS-Wachtruppe ‘Sachsen’ at Sachsenburg

SS-Wachtruppe ‘Brandenburg’ at Oranienburg and Columbia-Haus

SS-Wachtruppe ‘Hansa’ at Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel

During 1935, these formations were completely removed from the control of the Allgemeine-SS and reorganised into five independent battalions, namely:

SS-Wachsturmbann I ‘Oberbayern’ at Dachau

SS-Wachsturmbann II ‘Elbe’ at Lichtenburg

SS-Wachsturmbann III ‘Sachsen’ at Sachsenburg

SS-Wachsturmbann IV ‘Ostfriesland’ at Esterwegen

SS-Wachsturmbann V ‘Brandenburg’ at Oranienburg and Columbia-Haus

By December 1935, Eicke was somewhat prematurely styling himself as ‘Führer der Totenkopfverbände’, or Commander of Death’s Head Units. It was not until 29 March 1936 that the Wachsturmbanne, with a strength of 3,500 men, were officially renamed the SS-Totenkopfverbände, or SS-TV, and allocated distinctive new collar patches bearing the death’s head. On 1 July 1937, they were regrouped into the following three regiments, comprising 4,500 men:


Himmler, Hitler and Hausser view the ‘Deutschland’ regiment on exercise at Münsterlager, May 1939. The officer on the right is Jochen Peiper, then serving as aide-de-camp to the Reichsführer.

SS-Totenkopfstandarte 1 ‘Oberbayern’ at Dachau

SS-Totenkopfstandarte 2 ‘Brandenburg’ at Sachsenhausen

SS-Totenkopfstandarte 3 ‘Thüringen’ at Buchenwald

In 1938 a fourth regiment, SS-Totenkopfstandarte 4 ‘Ostmark’, was formed in Austria to staff the new concentration camp at Mauthausen.

Eicke, a former paymaster of the imperial army, had an undying hatred of the professional officers whom he saw in command of the SS-Verfügungstruppe and one of his primary objectives was to turn the Totenkopfverbände into a sort of brutal working-class counterforce to the SS-VT. Himmler had given him almost complete autonomy in his appointment as Inspekteur der Konzentrationslager, and Eicke kept a jealous watch to ensure that no senior ex-officers infiltrated his organisation to threaten his position. While his troops were heavily armed on army lines, albeit with rather outdated weaponry, Eicke continually warned them against any attempt to ape a military organisation, and he frequently impressed upon them that they belonged neither to the army, nor to the police, nor to the Verfügungstruppe. Their sole task was to isolate the ‘enemies of the state’ from the German people. Eicke drummed the concept of dangerous subversives so forcefully and convincingly into his men that they became firmly convinced of their position as the Reich’s true guardians. They were the only soldiers who even in peacetime faced the enemy day and night . . . the enemy behind the wire.

The regulations governing the Totenkopfverbände became ever stricter. Any member allowing a prisoner to escape would himself be handed over to the Gestapo, and would probably end up being incarcerated in a concentration camp. Prisoners who tried to escape could be shot without warning, as could any inmate who assaulted a guard. The main forms of punishment in the camps were beatings, hard labour and tying prisoners to trees, and there were several instances of inmates being killed by SS-TV guards, whose hatred of the prisoners was consciously cultivated. Eicke made a point of recruiting ‘big sixteen-year-olds’ direct from the Hitler Youth, and most Totenkopf men were under twenty years of age. Almost 95 per cent of them were unmarried, with few or no personal ties. They were ideally suited to be moulded according to Eicke’s doctrines for the SS-TV.

By 1939, the SS-Totenkopfverbände had grown to include SS-Totenkopfstandarte 5 ‘Dietrich Eckart’; a medical battalion; an anti-tank demonstration company; a motorised signals platoon; and a semimotorised engineer unit. Whatever Eicke may have intended, his SS-TV had developed into a truly military organisation, and on 17 August Hitler recognised that fact by ordering that in the event of war the Totenkopfstandarten should be used as police reinforcements (Totenkopf-Polizeiverstärkung) within the framework of the Wehrmacht. In other words, they were to be deployed as occupation troops. Their task of guarding the concentration camps would be taken over by older Allgemeine-SS reservists formed into new SS-Totenkopf-Wachsturmbanne. The third battalion of SS-Totenkopfstandarte 4 had already taken up a defensive position as a Home Guard unit in Danzig, the so-called SS-Heimwehr Danzig, and it was bolstered by a reserve battalion, SS-Wachsturmbann Eimann. At the same time, 10,000 younger officers and men of the Allgemeine-SS were called up for service with the Death’s Head units. Himmler estimated that 50,000 Allgemeine-SS men would eventually be made available for call-up as Totenkopf-Polizeiverstärkung. The link between the SS-Totenkopfverbände and concentration camp guard duties was all but being dissolved.


SS-Gruppenführer Albert Forster, Gauleiter of Danzig-West Prussia, reviewing the SS-Heimwehr Danzig in August 1939. The officer on the left is SS-Obersturmbannführer Friedmann Götze, commander of the Heimwehr, who was killed by a British sniper at Le Paradis on 28 May 1940 while serving with the SS-Totenkopf-Division. Götze’s death came the day after 100 unarmed British prisoners of the 2nd Royal Norfolks were murdered by Totenkopf troops under Fritz Knöchlein.

When the Second World War broke out the following month, the plan to use Eicke’s men as occupation troops was quickly modified. Dachau was cleared of inmates and the Totenkopfstandarten, augmented by the young Allgemeine-SS conscripts and some police personnel, were mustered there and formed into the SS-Totenkopf-Division for combat service alongside the Leibstandarte and SS-VT. The guarding of concentration camps now fell to the older men, unfit for front-line duty, and to ‘green’ SS recruits and non-German auxiliaries. Death’s Head troops, on the other hand, entered a new phase in their unit’s story and were soon to gain a reputation as some of the hardest and most ruthless soldiers of the war.

Conditions of service in the armed SS were distinct from those applicable to other SS formations. Volunteers to join the prewar SS-VT and SS-TV had to be between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two, at least 5 ft 11 in tall and of the highest physical fitness. Entry requirements for the Leibstandarte were even more stringent, with a minimum height of 6 ft 1 in, and it was no idle boast of Himmler’s that until 1936 even a filled tooth was adjudged a sufficient deformity to disqualify a young man from entry into the Führer’s Guard. Needless to say, as with ordinary members of the Allgemeine-SS, Aryan pedigree had to be spotless. From 1935, membership of the Leibstandarte and SS-Verfügungstruppe counted as military service, and rates of pay corresponded to those of the Wehrmacht. However, terms were hard. Enlisted men had to sign up for a minimum of four years, NCOs for twelve years and officers for twenty-five years. Moreover, they were all subject to the SS legal system and discipline code, and were obliged to secure the Reichsführer’s permission before they could marry. Membership of the Totenkopfverbände, while similarly demanding in terms of service conditions, did not count as fulfilment of military duty until the spring of 1939. Before that time, SS-TV volunteers had to complete their statutory term of military conscription either in the Wehrmacht or in the SS-Verfügungstruppe. Eicke preferred his men to do their service in the army, navy or air force, as he was concerned that if they were to join the SS-VT they might want to remain in that branch of the SS rather than return to what he called the ‘onerous and demanding task of guarding concentration camps’.

Once in the armed SS, recruits were moulded into very adaptable soldier-athletes capable of much better than average endurance on the march and in combat. Great emphasis was placed upon ideological indoctrination, physical exercise and sports, which were made integral parts of the training programme and daily life. More time was spent in the field, on the ranges and in the classroom learning the theory of tactics than was the practice in the army, while considerably less attention was given to drill, even in the Leibstandarte after 1938. This resulted in a standard of battlefield movement and shooting that was appreciably higher than that of the Wehrmacht. Manoeuvres were made as realistic as possible, with the use of live ammunition and heavy artillery barrages, so that every SS-VT man became fully accustomed to handling a variety of weapons and also to being within 100 yards of explosions from his own artillery fire. The end product was a higher standard of soldier, a man who was a storm trooper in the best traditions of the term.

Unlike their counterparts in the army, SS rank-and-file were taught to think for themselves and not rely too heavily on the issuance of orders from above. Consequently, they became very self-reliant. Every SS man was looked upon as a potential NCO, and every NCO as a potential officer. Officer cadets, irrespective of background or social standing, had to serve eighteen months in the ranks before being commissioned. A very tough training programme was run by the military academies, or Junkerschulen, at Bad Tölz and Braunschweig, and by 1938–9 around 500 officers were being produced annually. The average SS-VT officer was considerably more aggressive in combat than his Wehrmacht colleagues, which is highlighted by the fact that nearly all of the first fifty-four cadets who passed out of Bad Tölz in 1934 were killed in battle between 1939 and 1942. A significant factor which contributed to the unique nature of the armed SS was the atmosphere of camaraderie and ‘heroic realism’ which permeated its ranks. Soldiers of the SS were taught to be fighters for fighting’s sake, and to abandon themselves to the struggle if so required for the greater good. The traditional soldierly concept was turned into one of pure belligerence, with the cultivation of a fatalistic enthusiasm for combat which far exceeded the normal selfsacrifice that might be expected of a soldier. That ethos went a long way to explaining the particularly heavy casualties later suffered by the Waffen-SS during the war, and the determination of its survivors.

Soldiers of the Leibstandarte, SS-VT and SS-TV were eligible for the whole range of military orders, medals and awards created by the Nazi régime. In addition to these national honours, a series of decorations was instituted specifically for the militarised formations of the SS. The SS Dienstauszeichnungen, or SS Long Service Awards, first announced on 30 January 1938 and modelled on their Wehrmacht equivalents, comprised medals for four and eight years’ service and large swastika-shaped ‘crosses’ for twelve and twenty-five years’. The latter two grades bore SS runes embroidered into their cornflower-blue ribbons. The Dienstauszeichnungen were produced in some quantity during 1939 by Deschler of Munich and Petz & Lorenz of Unterreichenbach, but they were not widely distributed since the Waffen-SS became eligible to receive the Wehrmacht long service awards instead from early 1940. Most Waffen-SS officers and men during the 1940–5 period sported army eagles, not SS runes, on their service ribbon bars. Indeed, photographic evidence reveals only one prominent Waffen-SS officer, Otto Kumm, consistently wearing the runic ribbon of the twelve-year decoration during the war. Runic ribbons were never seen on the tunics of any other Waffen-SS generals, Dietrich, Hausser and Steiner included, although they must have been entitled to wear them, particularly as service before 1933 and after 1939 counted as double for the purposes of presentation. No photographs at all are known to exist showing the four-or eight-year SS medals being worn, and no-one ever qualified for a twenty-five-year decoration. It is interesting to note that Himmler wore the twelve-year award, to which he was not strictly speaking entitled as he was not an active member of the Leibstandarte, SS-VT or SS-TV!

An SS-VT Marksmanship Badge, for proficiency in rifle and machine-gun shooting, was approved by Himmler prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. However, the decoration was never put into production.

So why had there been such a rapid militarisation of large sections of the SS? The reason was a simple one. The SS was primarily a civil police force which Hitler hoped would eventually maintain order not only in Germany but throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. To do so, however, it would first have to win its spurs on the battlefield. Only then could the SS possess the moral authority necessary for its future role in the New Order. As early as 1934, Hitler told Himmler:

In our Reich of the future, the SS and police will need a soldierly character if they are to have the desired effect on ordinary citizens. The German people, through their past experience of glorious military events and their present education by the NSDAP, have acquired such a warrior mentality that a fat, jovial, friendly police such as we had during the Weimar era can no longer exert authority. For this reason, it will be necessary in future wars for our SS and police, in their own closed units, to prove themselves at the front in the same way as the army and to make blood sacrifices to the same degree as any other branch of the armed forces.

In this way, it could be said that the whole relationship between the Allgemeine-SS, the Waffen-SS and the police, as integral parts of the projected Staatsschutzkorps, epitomised the earliest concepts of policing, as voiced by the British philosopher Herbert Spencer in 1851: ‘Policemen are soldiers who act alone; soldiers are policemen who act in unison’.

All members of the Allgemeine-SS were subject to the normal term of military conscription into the Wehrmacht, which swallowed up the majority of SS men after the outbreak of war. However, it was the actions of the Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’, the SS-Verfügungstruppe and the SS-Totenkopfverbände which personified the early battlefield accomplishments of the SS in the eyes of the German public.


At the end of the eighteen-day Polish campaign, Hitler visited German troops at the battlefront, accompanied by his hand-picked SS bodyguard detachment, the so-called Führerbegleitkommando. Here one of the high-speed escort vehicles is passing a Wehrmacht convoy, forcing a local farmer into the side of the road. The car registration plate is covered for security reasons, and the machine-gunner is a Leibstandarte Untersturmführer.

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