Himmler’s intention that his racial élite should eventually police and guard occupied Europe stemmed from the fact that the most important achievement of the SS from the earliest days of the Third Reich had been its dominance of the security apparatus within Germany itself, and the power and influence which that entailed. The failure of the Munich putsch in 1923, which was smashed by the police rather than the army, brought home to Hitler the realisation that unrestricted control of the police would be an essential element in the successful foundation of a long-term Nazi state. Consequently, the period immediately following the assumption of power on 30 January 1933 witnessed a concerted effort by the Führer to have his most trusted lieutenants nominated to senior police positions in the governments of the various provinces, or Länder, which existed under the Weimar Republic. Foremost among these men was Hermann Göring, one of the first Nazis elected to the Reichstag and its President since 30 August 1932, who received ministerial duties in both the national and Prussian governments. As Prussian Minister of the Interior, he became responsible for policing the Reich capital and two-thirds of the land area of Germany. Göring appointed Kurt Daluege, head of the Berlin SS, as his Chief of Prussian Police and Rudolf Diels, his cousin’s husband, as Deputy Chief. He then moved swiftly to separate the Prussian Political Police, which dealt with subversives, from the rest of the organisation. On 27 April 1933 he created a new political department staffed by thirty-five men, to be called the Secret State Police or Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), and assigned Diels to head it. The Gestapo was instructed that it could disregard the restrictions imposed by Prussian state law, and it was removed from the control of the Prussian Ministry of the Interior to new offices at 8 Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, Berlin, and made an independent force responsible to Göring personally. By mid-1933, therefore, Göring had a firm grip on the largest provincial police force in Germany and launched it and the SA against the communists and other opponents of the New Order.


Portrait photograph of Heinrich Himmler, circulated to all police stations in 1936 after his appointment as Chef der Deutschen Polizei. It was produced and distributed by the German Police Officers’ Association, and bore an appropriate stamp on the reverse.

Diels, however, soon became a problem. He was a professional policeman, not a Nazi, and at once went to war against all extremists and law-breakers, regardless of political persuasion. His fledgling Gestapo, armed with machine-guns, regularly surrounded ad hoc SA and SS detention centres in Berlin and forced the Brownshirts to surrender and release their severely beaten political prisoners. Daluege and some SS men who worked their way into the Gestapo began to campaign viciously for the downfall of Diels and his faction, and such infighting developed that it eventually became commonplace for members of the Gestapo to arrest one another. Daluege even plotted to invite Diels to a meeting and then throw him out of an upper-storey window! But Diels continued to enjoy Göring’s patronage and friendship, and retained his command of the Gestapo.

While Göring was the first official of the Third Reich to assert a measure of personal authority over the regular provincial police, it remained for Himmler to realise that ambition on a national scale. When the Gauleiter of Munich-Upper Bavaria, Adolf Wagner, became Bavarian Minister of the Interior at the beginning of March 1933, his natural choice as Police President of Munich was Himmler, who had been Head of Security at the NSDAP headquarters in the city for over a year. On 1 April, Himmler was appointed Commander of the Political Police for the whole of Bavaria, a position which gave him the power to challenge Göring’s Prussian supremacy. He found an ally in the Reich Minister of the Interior, Dr Wilhelm Frick, a former Munich policeman who was a confirmed opponent of the autonomy of the Länder and an old enemy of Göring. With Frick’s support, Himmler was nominated Chief of Police in province after province until only Prussia remained out of his reach.

In January 1934, Frick laid before Hitler a Bill for the Administrative Reorganisation of the Reich. As a result of its acceptance, all the provincial police forces were to be amalgamated to form the first national German Police Force, officially termed ‘die Deutsche Polizei’, under the Reich Minister of the Interior. Swift changes were made, including the incorporation of the eagle and swastika into the design of existing police uniforms. Göring stood fast for a time in Prussia, and he might have frustrated the unification process entirely were it not for the growing dread of Röhm and the SA. The Stabschef was hungry for power and eager to trample on anyone who stood in his way. The menacing presence of the SA, and the fact that the SS was the only reliable body which could capably oppose it, finally persuaded Göring to compromise. He ousted his beleaguered protégé Diels on 20 April 1934 and appointed Himmler as Chief of the Prussian Gestapo, with SS-Brigadeführer Reinhard Heydrich as his deputy. Only two months later, the Göring/Himmler/Heydrich triumvirate successfully decapitated the SA in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’.

During 1935, the intrigues continued and Himmler took his turn at coming into conflict with Frick. The latter was anxious to pursue his aim that all German police forces should ultimately be subordinated to him alone, as Reich Minister of the Interior. To that end he sought the support of Daluege, still head of the uniformed police in Prussia, against Himmler. Frick proposed that Daluege should be nominated Chief of the German Police on the understanding that he would take his instructions only from the Ministry of the Interior. Not surprisingly, Daluege expressed interest, but both he and Frick were outmanoeuvred by Himmler and Heydrich, who had got wind of the plot to undermine them. On 9 June 1936, Heydrich approached Hitler direct and presented a strong case for giving Himmler the rank of Minister and title Chief of the German Police. The crux of Heydrich’s argument was that Himmler’s efficiency and personal loyalty to the Führer were beyond question, and he would cut out the ‘middle man’, Frick. Frick retaliated but was successful only in his objection that Himmler should not be given ministerial rank. On 17 June 1936, the Reichsführer-SS was appointed to the newly created government post of Chief of the German Police in the Reich Ministry of the Interior (Chef der Deutschen Polizei im Reichsministerium des Innern), answerable only to Hitler. Heydrich was rewarded for his efforts by being put in charge of the security police, and Daluege accepted command of the uniformed police. The entire system was reorganised around these two major divisions and, with the introduction of a series of new police uniforms, all vestiges of the old Länder forces finally disappeared.


From 18 to 22 February 1939, Himmler paid a fact-finding visit to Warsaw as a guest of the chief of the Polish Police. His next visit, seven months later, was to inspect and congratulate SS troops who had participated in the conquest of Poland.

Basking in his impressive new title, which had to be abbreviated in official correspondence to RfSSuChdDtPol, Himmler was now the undisputed head of two important but separate organisations: the SS and the national police. The police, however, by far the more powerful and intrusive agency, affecting the daily lives of the entire German population, consisted of individuals who were not racially screened and, more importantly, not always politically reliable. Consequently, one of Himmler’s first actions on assuming command was to expel twenty-two police colonels, hundreds of junior officers and thousands of NCOs who were considered to have socialist sympathies. The end result, in terms of lost experience, was catastrophic. Those dismissed had been professionals, and totally outclassed the SS men brought in to replace them. Many had to be reinstated after a hastily arranged programme of Nazi indoctrination.

The Nazification of the existing police membership was a short-term expedient, however. Himmler now began to formulate his greatest project, the complete merger of the SS and police into a single Staatsschutzkorps, or State Protection Corps, so that the conventional police forces could be done away with altogether. This was to be achieved first by reorganisation and then by the absorption of police personnel into the SS. Acceptable members of the uniformed police would join the Allgemeine-SS, forming interim SS-Police units in the major cities, while security policemen who fulfilled the various racial and ideological requirements of the SS would enrol in the SD. In autumn 1936, as the first stage in this process, various SD leaders were appointed Inspectors of Security Police and charged with promoting the gradual fusion of the Gestapo, Kripo and SD. A year later, the SS Oberabschnitte commanders became the first Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer, assuming responsibility for all SS and police formations in their regions. Most important of all, a great recruiting drive was set in motion at the beginning of 1938 to encourage young members of the Allgemeine-SS to join the police as a full-time career. The ultimate intention was to replace the older and retiring police officers with ‘new blood’ so that, through a progression of selective recruitment, accelerated promotion and natural wastage, the Staatsschutzkorps would be in full operation and the police disbanded by 1955.


The Berlin Schutzpolizei parade along the Wilhelmstrasse past Daluege, Himmler and Hitler, 20 April 1939.

With the object of picking only the most reliable serving members of the police for acceptance into the SS, Himmler issued a Rank Parity Decree on 26 June 1938, which laid down the following provisions:


Members of the police could, on application, be accepted into the SS provided that:

(a)They fulfilled general SS recruiting conditions; and

(b)They had been members of the NSDAP or any of its organisations before 30 January 1933, or they had been Patron Members (FM) of the SS before 30 January 1933, or they had served for at least three years in the police under RfSS command and had proved themselves satisfactory.


The Reichsführer-SS reserved to himself the right to authorise the acceptance of any further categories of persons, including most Police generals who would normally have been rejected by the SS on account of their age.


Acceptance into the SS would take place according to the police rank held.


Police civilian employees could be incorporated into the SS with SS rank corresponding to their Civil Service grade.


Rank parity promotions would take place from case to case, as required.

The effect of provision (i) of the decree was that only racially and physically suitable and politically reliable members of the police would be accepted into the SS and, thereafter, into the intended Staatsschutzkorps. However, provisions (ii) to (v) threatened to swamp the Allgemeine-SS with police officials who were to be automatically given SS ranks corresponding to their status in the police, even though they had never held any junior SS positions before. For instance, a police Oberwachtmeister would enter the SS as a Hauptscharführer, an Inspektor as an Obersturmführer, an Oberst as a Standartenführer, and so on. Consequently, a practical ceiling had to be put on the number of police men who could be incorporated into the SS each year, and competition for places became fierce. Successful applicants were normally taken into the SS Stammabteilungen, without any real powers of operational SS command, and were permitted to wear the SS runes embroidered on a patch below the left breast pocket of the police tunic.

The outbreak of war in 1939 dealt a mortal blow to the steady progression towards a Staatsschutzkorps, for the majority of the finest potential police recruits from the Allgemeine-SS were suddenly swallowed up by the Wehrmacht. Nevertheless, the acceptance of serving police men into the SS organisation continued apace. During October 1939, no less than 16,000 members of the uniformed police were called up en masse to form the Polizei-Division, a combat unit affiliated to the Waffen-SS, which fought on the western front and in Russia. Its soldiers were not obliged to pass the SS racial and physical requirements and so were not initially considered to be full SS men, although by February 1942 they had distinguished themselves sufficiently in battle to be completely integrated into the Waffen-SS. Over 30 heavily armed police regiments also served under SS command as occupation troops throughout Europe, and in February 1945 an SS-Polizei-Grenadier-Division was raised with cadre personnel from the police school at Dresden. The Staatsschutzkorps idea was ultimately overtaken by events and never came to fruition. However, while the German police always managed to retain its position as a technically separate entity, its operational independence was rapidly eroded in real terms through continual SS infiltration. By the end of the war, Himmler had inevitably succeeded Frick as Reich Minister of the Interior, and he and his SS generals completely dominated all branches of both the uniformed and security police forces across the Reich.


Kurt Daluege in the uniform of SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Polizei, 24 August 1943. From this time on, he was continually ill and was, in fact, only semi-conscious when hanged at the end of the war.

By far the larger of the two main divisions of the German police was the Ordnungspolizei or Orpo, the so-called ‘Order Police’, which comprised all uniformed civil police personnel. From its inception in 1936, Orpo was commanded by Kurt Daluege, whose powerful position qualified him to become one of the first three SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer in April 1942, the other two being Franz Xaver Schwarz and ‘Sepp’ Dietrich. The following year he was made Deputy Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, and the day-to-day running of Orpo fell to SS-Obergruppenführer Alfred Wünnenberg, formerly commander of the SS-Polizei-Division. By that time, the Allgemeine-SS had permeated every aspect of the uniformed police system. SS-pattern rank insignia were sported by police generals, SS-style swords were worn by police officers and NCOs, and SS-type flags and standards were carried by police units on ceremonial occasions. A department known as the Hauptstelle der Hauptamt Ordnungspolizei had been set up within the Reichsführung-SS to advise Himmler on all matters concerning the uniformed police and, as Chef der Deutschen Polizei, he made policy decisions regarding its operations and deployment. In effect, the massive Orpo organisation had become subordinate to, and took its instructions from, the leadership of the Allgemeine-SS.

By the end of the war, the Ordnungspolizei had expanded to include a large number of distinct police formations, each with its own purpose and often its own series of uniforms. These groups are listed below.


The Schutzpolizei, or Protection Police, comprised the regular municipal ‘beat bobbies’ of the Third Reich and numbered around 200,000 men in 1943. This branch was itself subdivided into the Schutzpolizei des Reiches, whose jurisdiction extended throughout Germany, and the Schutzpolizei des Gemeinden, who operated only within their own towns. In addition, companies of Schutzpolizei were organised into Kaserniertepolizei or Barracked Police, equipped with armoured cars, machine guns and grenades. Their function was to act as a mobile reserve to back up the local police when additional manpower was needed in times of mass demonstrations or similar events. After 1936, recruits for the Schutzpolizei were taken primarily from the Allgemeine-SS and the Wehrmacht. Their initial training by SS lecturers emphasised political indoctrination and was followed by specialised instruction at one of the thirty police schools scattered across Germany, the main ones being at Berlin-Köpenick and at Fürstenfeldbruck near Munich. The Inspector-General of Police Schools was an SS-Gruppenführer, Adolf von Bomhard.


The Gendarmerie or Rural Police, under SS-Gruppenführer August Meyszner, covered landward districts and small communities of less than 2,000 inhabitants. They were particularly adept at combatting poaching, detecting black market slaughtering of animals, and the like. In those areas of the Reich, including the occupied territories, that were of a mountainous nature or prone to heavy snowfall, members of the Gendarmerie skilled in skiing and mountaineering were employed. They had to undergo rigorous training at the Hochgebirgs Gendarmerie Schools at Oberjoch bei Hindelang, Sudelfeld am Wendelstein and Kitzbühel in the Tirol. In January 1942, a separate branch of the Gendarmerie known as the Landwacht or Rural Guard was set up by Himmler to supervise prisoners-of-war engaged in agricultural work. It was recruited from older policemen and disabled SS ex-servicemen. After 20 July 1944, military prisoner-of-war camps themselves were put under the administration of the SS and police, with responsibility for running them being placed in the hands of SS-Obergruppenführer Berger.


The Verwaltungspolizei, commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer August Frank, was the administrative branch of Orpo, units of which were attached to each police headquarters. Their various duties included record keeping, the enforcement of statutory regulations affecting theatres, factories and shops, the registration of foreign nationals, and the issuing of firearms licences, travel permits, etc. This administrative force took in the former Gesundheitspolizei (Health Police), Gewerbepolizei (Factory and Shops Police) and Baupolizei (Buildings Police). Many Verwaltungspolizei employees were civilians, who had been given extensive periods of training at the SS and police administrative schools.


The Verkehrspolizei, or Municipal Traffic Police, consisted of specially trained units of men who were stationed alongside the Kaserniertepolizei in all major German cities. They regulated traffic and patrolled the main roads in their areas, and were well versed in the field of traffic law. The Verkehrspolizei was responsible for the prevention of traffic accidents, piecing together and recording the causes of accidents, and escorting abnormal loads, ambulances and other emergency vehicles. The Motorisierte Gendarmerie was formed to cope with the increase in traffic on rural roads and the new network of autobahn – or motorways being built across Germany. Unlike the Verkehrspolizei, their jurisdiction was not limited by geographical divisions. They were organised into Bereitschaften or mobile reserves containing three or four platoons of men and vehicles, each located in barracks at strategic points on the German highway system. The wail of their sirens could often be heard as they provided high-speed escorts for NSDAP leaders travelling throughout the Reich.


The Wasserschutzpolizei, or Waterways Protection Police, was responsible for policing and patrolling all navigable inland rivers and canals, regulating waterborne traffic, preventing smuggling, enforcing safety and security measures and inspecting waterways shipping. It was supplemented during the war by special units of the Allgemeine-SS known as Hafensicherung-struppen, or Port Security Troops, which patrolled the waterfronts and major ports of the coastal SS Oberabschnitte in co-operation with the police authorities and the SD. In addition, by a proclamation of SS-Ober-gruppenführer Karl Kaufmann, Gauleiter of Hamburg and Reich Commissioner for Ocean Navigation, all ships which were operating for Germany’s war effort in the Baltic and North Sea areas, and which were manned partially or entirely by Danes, Dutchmen, Norwegians and other non-Germans, had on board so-called SS-Bordschutzmannschaften. These SS Shipboard Security Crews were assigned by the Führer of the Oberabschnitte from whose ports the vessels sailed, and they were used to man flak guns and generally assist the German officers in maintaining order on the ships.


The Bahnschutzpolizei, or Railway Police, recruited primarily from Deutsche Reichsbahn employees who held part-time membership of the Allgemeine-SS or SA, were armed with rifles and machine-guns and were charged with protecting railway property, preventing espionage and sabotage, and maintaining law and order on trains and at stations. They were assisted by the Reichsbahn Wasserschutzpolizei which patrolled railway facilities associated with harbours, canals and inland waterways.


The Postschutz, or Postal Protection Service, had the responsibility of protecting and maintaining the security of all post offices and other postal establishments, together with mail, telephone and telegraph services throughout the Reich. Prior to 1942 the 4,500-strong Postschutz was under the control of the Postmaster-General, NSKK-Obergruppenführer Dr Wilhelm Ohnesorge, but in March of that year, upon the directions of Hitler, it was completely incorporated into the Allgemeine-SS and redesignated as the SS-Postschutz. From then on, SS collar patches were worn with the Postschutz uniform.


All of Germany’s provincial fire brigades were incorporated into the Ordnungspolizei in 1938 under the title Feuerschutzpolizei, or Fire Protection Police, which thereafter directed fire-fighting and fire prevention across the Reich. The size of the Fire Protection Police was fixed in accordance with the local population, and in those towns with more than 150,000 residents auxiliary fire brigades known as Freiwillige Feuerwehren were established on a voluntary basis to assist the regulars. At the height of the wartime air raids on Germany, the fire-fighting services numbered over 1,700,000 men and women, all of whom were technically under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Dr Johannes Meyer, the Inspector-General of the Feuerschutzpolizei.


Germany’s civil defence system comprised three main bodies. The first was the Reichsluftschutzbund or RLB, which engaged in the widespread civil defence training of the civilian population. The second was the Luftschutz Warndienst or LSW, which acted like Britain’s Royal Observer Corps in alerting the local populace to impending air attacks. The third body was the Sicherheits- und Hilfsdienst or SHD, the Security and Assistance Service, a highly mobile rescue organisation which rendered immediate help to trapped and injured air raid victims. The equipment used in their dangerous work included hydraulic jacks, cutting machines and wrecking tools. During the war, the RLB and the LSW came under the direct control of the various NSDAP Gauleiters, whose responsibilities included civil defence in their Gaue. The SHD, however, was absorbed into the police in May 1942, renamed the Luftschutzpolizei and issued with police insignia. Members were housed in barracks on a rotating basis, i.e. they were allowed to sleep at home every second night, and were exempt from conscription into the Wehrmacht as service with the Luftschutzpolizei was a reserved occupation. Consequently, those who were also in the Allgemeine-SS could keep up their normal SS activities, air raids permitting.


The Technische Nothilfe, or TeNo, was a Technical Emergency Corps founded initially as a strike-breaking organisation by the government in September 1919, and used later as a technical reserve in cases of natural disaster. In 1937, it was incorporated into the Ordnungspolizei and set the task of dealing with breakdowns in public services and utilities such as gas, water and electricity, particularly after air raids. A second and more remote purpose was to meet potential revolutionary conditions in the ‘Theatre of War Inner Germany’, as Himmler liked to call the home front where the majority of his forces operated. In addition to this domestic work, units known as TeNo Kommandos laboured with the Wehrmacht on front-line construction and repair. From 1943 the 100,000 members of TeNo were authorised to wear SS-style rank badges. The wartime Chef der TeNo was SS-Gruppenführer Hans Weinreich, later succeeded by Willy Schmelcher.


In 1941, the Allgemeine-SS assumed responsibility for the protection of radio stations because of their vulnerability to sabotage in wartime. To that end, an SS-Funkschutz, or Radio Guard, was established. It ultimately policed all the official radio stations, or Reichssender, raided illicit radio stations and detected illegal listening to foreign stations. Members wore standard Allgemeine-SS uniform with the addition of a gorget bearing the legend ‘SS-Funkschutz’ while on duty.


Members of the Werkschutzpolizei, or Factory Protection Police, were stationed at important industrial concerns to act as factory guards and watchmen, and were under the command of the Führer of the SS Oberabschnitt in which their factory was sited. They were generally kitted out with surplus black Allgemeine-SS uniforms and outdated Prussian-blue fire service uniforms, to which they attached their own insignia.

By 1943 therefore, through his continued absorption of uniformed police responsibilities, Himmler had succeeded in achieving ultimate control of all conventional German police forces, the fire brigade, railway and post office guards, rescue and emergency services, and even night watchmen. Moreover, the corresponding domestic police forces in the conquered territories also came under his authority. The active Allgemeine-SS proper was by that time a relatively small organisation in its own right, and numerically far inferior to the Waffen-SS. However, its leaders directed the operations of hundreds of thousands of uniformed policemen throughout the Greater German Reich, and had access to their intimate local knowledge. In that way, the oft-maligned and faceless bureaucrats of the Allgemeine-SS hierarchy exercised a power and influence more widespread and effective than anything contemplated by their fighting comrades in the Waffen-SS, who naturally received all the propaganda publicity during the war.

Just as the German police network could be split into two distinct groupings, the uniformed police and the security police, so the security police forces themselves comprised two entirely separate divisions prior to September 1939, namely those of the Nazi party and those of the state. The principal party force was the Sicherheitsdienst des RfSS, or SD, the SS security service, which absorbed all other intelligence services of the NSDAP in June 1934. The state force was known as the Sicherheitspolizei, or Sipo (Security Police), a general administrative term used to cover both the traditional Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo (Criminal Police), and the more recently formed Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo (Political Police). In 1939, all of these groups were united as part of the Staatsschutzkorps programme to become departments of a single newly created SS Hauptamt, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA (Reich Central Security Office). These main security police bodies are best described in turn, to indicate their wide-ranging responsibilities and the power which the SS obtained by taking them over under Himmler’s authority.


SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich at his desk in 1937. The SS death’s head ring can be seen clearly on his left hand.


In June 1931, Himmler accepted Reinhard Heydrich, a former naval communications officer, into the SS as a Sturmführer and set him the task of organising an SS intelligence service to keep watch on the political opposition. Initially known as Department Ic of the SS-Amt, or the Ic-Dienst, then as the Press and Information Service, it was finally renamed the Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS (Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS), or SD, in June 1932. By that time, Heydrich had been promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer and with a staff of seven civilians established his small SD headquarters in Munich. When the Nazis came to power at the beginning of 1933, the SD had no more than 200 personnel, most of whom were attached to the various Abschnitte HQs throughout Germany. During the 1933–4 period, however, the service was expanded and many doctors, lawyers and other academics who applied to join the Allgemeine-SS were advised that their best prospects for advancement within the organisation lay with the SD branch. As soon as Himmler took over the Gestapo in April 1934, Heydrich, by then a Brigadeführer, reorganised it and placed as many of his SD men as possible in positions where they could observe the activities of the political police and gain valuable experience. However, although the SD continued as a separate entity, it had neither the manpower nor the expertise to replace the existing political police altogether. Himmler’s original plan to incorporate all members of the Sipo into the SD was continually frustrated, and by January 1938 the SD still had only 5,000 full-time and honorary members across the Reich. In fact, with the formation of the RSHA the following year, the SD eventually became superfluous and was itself almost completely absorbed into the security police. Its continued existence as a separate branch of the Allgemeine-SS was due solely to Himmler’s desire to retain his SD’s unique position as the only intelligence agency of the NSDAP.

The remit of the SD gradually expanded from purely political intelligence to social, economic and religious matters, and became somewhat ‘airy-fairy’. Its members made detailed studies of communism, Judaism, the doctrine of papal supremacy, Freemasonry, astrology, religious sects and the forces of reaction generally. They were concerned not so much with actual and current security problems as with perceived ideological questions. They delved into the influence of Bolshevism on Masonic circles abroad, and looked at the symbolism of top hats at Eton. They studied Jewish economics and the black market in currency. They propounded the theory that by 1960 communism would become a religion centred in Asia, designed to destroy the whole white world. By the time war broke out, many members of the SD had become something of a laughing stock among their colleagues in the Sipo who were engaged in the real day-to-day struggle against criminals, saboteurs and active enemies of the state.

The connotations of dread and horror which later attached themselves to the SD in occupied Europe and Russia stemmed from the fact that all members of the security police serving in the conquered territories, whether or not they were members of the SS or SD, were instructed to wear the grey SS uniform with a combination of SD collar and sleeve insignia and police shoulder straps, to give them the protection of military status yet at the same time distinguish them from other uniformed SS, police and Wehrmacht personnel. During the early days of the war, security policemen, who were detested by the fighting services, had worn civilian clothing and there had been occasions when they had been conveniently ‘mistaken for resistance people’ and shot by German soldiers! The uniform was therefore intended to protect them as much from their own side as from the enemy. The atrocities carried out by some of these Sipo men, particularly those attached to extermination squads in the east, reflected directly on the SD proper, the majority of whose members were engaged almost exclusively in academic research, intelligence-gathering and policy formulation. In fact, while the death squads which penetrated deep into Soviet territory in 1941 killing communists, partisans and Jews as they went were entitled ‘Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD’, only 3 per cent of their members were actually SD men. The greater number were Waffen-SS (34 per cent), army (28 per cent) and uniformed police (22 per cent), assisted by Gestapo (9 per cent) and Kripo (4 per cent).


Security Police storming a suspect’s house in Warsaw, November 1939. Note the ‘Pol’, i.e. ‘Polizei’, prefix on the registration plate of their vehicle.


NCOs of the Sipo uncovering a cache of hidden weapons in Warsaw, November 1939.


When the Gestapo was established by Göring in 1933, it had thirty-five members with a budget of 1 million Reichsmarks. Two years later, its membership had risen to over 600 and its budget exceeded 40 million Reichsmarks. As the political police of the Reich, the Gestapo was responsible for gathering information on all subversive individuals and organisations, carrying out plain-clothes surveillance operations and raids, and effecting arrests on a grand scale. It also decided who was to be interned in concentration camps. At its Berlin headquarters, the known enemies of the régime, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to fanatical anti-Nazis, were categorised into one of the following three groups:


those to be imprisoned in case of probable mobilisation


those to be imprisoned in case of certain mobilisation


those to be closely supervised in time of war because of their political apathy

While the SD simply amassed intelligence, the Gestapo had real power to act on the information contained in its files. It was the Gestapo which organised the ‘dawn raids’ and the infamous ‘three o’clock knock’. The SD and Gestapo inevitably expended a great deal of energy competing with one another until their amalgamation under the RSHA.


The Kripo comprised regular police detectives who carried out standard criminal investigation work. Like the Gestapo, they operated in civilian clothes before being ordered to wear the SD uniform during the war. Their main duties were the investigation of serious statutory offences and common law crimes such as murder, rape, fraud and arson, and the interrogation of suspects. They attended at break-ins, took fingerprints, collected material evidence and prepared relevant reports. The Kripo was the most stable and professional of all the security police forces, and was a favoured recruiting ground for the Reichssicherheitsdienst or RSD (not to be confused with the SD), an élite force which provided small bodyguard detachments for Himmler and leading Nazis. Its commander was SS-Brigadeführer Hans Rattenhuber.


In October 1936, Inspectors of Security Police (Inspekteur der Sicherheitspolizei or IdS) were appointed in each SS Oberabschnitt to improve co-ordination between the SD, the Gestapo and the Kripo. Liaison and interdepartmental co-operation improved thereafter, and on 27 September 1939 the Sipo and SD were brought together to form adjacent departments of a single, all-embracing SS Hauptamt, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA. Once again, a governmental or state office, the Chief of the Security Police, and a Nazi party office, the Chief of the Security Service, were merged into a single post, Chief of the Security Police and Security Service (Chef der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD, or CSSD). Needless to say, the first CSSD was SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. The RSHA (often abbreviated to ‘RSi-H’ in SS correspondence to avoid confusion with RuSHA) was divided into seven departments, or ämter, as follows:


A Security Police Hauptscharführer, c. 1941. The blank right collar patch is clearly evident, as are the military-style shoulder straps which gave way to police versions in January 1942. This official may well have been a member of one of the Einsatzkommandos responsible for rounding up potential partisans following the invasion of Poland and Russia. His kindly countenance belies the unspeakable atrocities in which he may have been involved.


Sipo and SD officers who participated in a course at the Italian Colonial Police School in Rome from 9 to 16 January 1941 are saluted by the Italian Colonial Minister, Teruzzi.

Amt I

Personnel. This department dealt with all security police and SD personnel matters and was led by SS-Gruppenführer Dr Werner Best, a senior jurist and Heydrich’s deputy until 1940. He was succeeded by Bruno Streckenbach, Erwin Schulz and finally Erich Ehrlinger. Streckenbach went on to command the 19th Division of the Waffen-SS, and Schulz ended the war as security police leader in Salzburg.

Amt II

Administration. This effectively ran the RSHA and was also initially headed by Best, then by Dr Rudolf Siegert, and finally by Josef Spacil, an SS-Standartenführer on the staff of Oberabschnitt Donau.


SD (Home). An information service, led by SS-Gruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf, which collated data relating to politics and counterespionage within Germany. It financed the ‘Salon Kitty’, a high-class brothel in Berlin popular with senior Nazis and wealthy locals. The salon was wired for sound and, depending on what they said during their romps, the clients often found themselves being blackmailed by the SD or arrested by the Sipo shortly thereafter. The prostitutes were in fact female agents of the security police, and went out of their way to entice anti-Nazi remarks from their partners.

Amt IV

Gestapo. Under SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, the Gestapo continued in its set task of eliminating the enemies of the Nazi régime.

Amt V

Kripo. This active department retained its executive powers in dealing with common crime. Its long-time commander, SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe, was hanged in 1945 for his complicity in the attempt to assassinate Hitler the previous year.

Amt VI

SD (Abroad). An intelligence-gathering service directed against foreign countries, which also organised espionage in enemy territory. It was led first by SS-Brigadeführer Heinz Jost, then by Walter Schellenberg.


Ideological Research. This department was headed by SS-Oberführer Prof. Dr Franz Six, and sounded out general public opinion on a range of subjects. Working in conjunction with the Ministry of Propaganda, it monitored the progress of the Nazi indoctrination of the German people. Dr Six was the officer selected to command the security police and SD in occupied Britain – a post which he never took up!

The activities of the RSHA were extremely varied, ranging from the defamation of Tukachevsky and other Soviet generals, which led to Stalin’s purge of the Russian officer corps, to the liberation of Mussolini by Skorzeny’s commandos. They encompassed anti-terrorist operations, assassinations, control of foreigners in Germany, and the collation of political files seized from the police forces of the occupied countries. When the Gestapo took over the administration of the Customs Service from the Reich Ministry of Finance, border controls and the combatting of smuggling also came under the jurisdiction of the RSHA. As CSSD, Heydrich controlled one of the most complex and allembracing security police systems the world had ever seen, and in 1940 his standing on an international level was recognised with his nomination to the post of President of Interpol.

A surprisingly high percentage of senior SS officers were attached to the RSHA, since the very nature of its work and the expertise required for many of its operations necessitated that it should be a ‘top heavy’ organisation so far as rank was concerned. Taking into account every section of the SS, including the vast Waffen-SS, almost a quarter of all officers holding the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer in 1944 (i.e. 714 out of 3,006 or 23.8 per cent) worked with the RSHA. Corresponding figures for higher ranks were as follows:


240 out of 1,199



95 out of 623



41 out of 274



31 out of 270



7 out of 94



4 out of 91



0 out of 4


These statistics are remarkable, and serve to indicate the size and extent of the security police network in 1944, for they show that no less than one-fifth of all SS majors and colonels at that time were Sipo or SD men. Ultimately, there were some 65,000 junior security police officials stationed across Europe and Russia, fed by over 100,000 local informers.


Kurt Daluege accompanies Lina Heydrich at her husband’s funeral. Karl Hermann Frank stands saluting at the right, beside the puppet President of Bohemia and Moravia, Dr Emil Hácha.

On 27 May 1942, Heydrich, then Deputy Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, was blown up by Czech agents in Prague and he died a week later. Upon his death, he was awarded the Blood Order (the last posthumous bestowal of that revered decoration) and he became only the second ever recipient of the Deutscher Orden or German Order, a new Nazi version of the medieval Teutonic Order. Heydrich’s assassination caused shockwaves throughout the Nazi hierarchy and stunned Himmler, as it emphasised his own vulnerability to attack. His heavily armed personal escort battalion, the Begleitbataillon RfSS, was immediately doubled in size. On 1 January 1943, after some considerable anxiety and indecision, Himmler finally appointed SS-Ober-gruppenführer Dr Ernst Kaltenbrunner to fill the combined posts of Chief of the RSHA and CSSD, as Heydrich’s successor.

It was inevitable that sooner or later the RSHA would clash with the Abwehr, the Wehrmacht intelligence service under Admiral Canaris, but it was not until Canaris was implicated in the 20 July 1944 plot against Hitler that the Abwehr was finally absorbed by ämter IV and VI of the RSHA, leaving the German armed forces as the only major European military organisation without its own intelligence network. As the war drew to a close, Sipo and SD men furnished themselves with false papers and scurried underground, only to be rooted out again to face trial for their wartime activities or, more often, to continue in their old specialist roles as agents of the Americans or Russians, as East and West prepared for what then seemed an almost unavoidable confrontation.


Hitler pays his last respects to Reinhard Heydrich at the Wagnerian state funeral service held for him in the Mosaic Chamber of the new Reich Chancellery, 9 June 1942. Karl Wolff and SS-Gruppenführer Gauleiter Dr Friedrich Rainer are among the guard of honour, drawn from the SS, police, NSDAP, army, navy and Luftwaffe. Despite all of his Security Police responsibilities, Heydrich still found time to fly over sixty operational missions as a fighter pilot on the Russian front, being shot down behind enemy lines and winning the Iron Cross 1st Class.

One part of the police organisation was engaged in more active combat duties than the rest of Orpo and Sipo. During the period 1940–2, a large number of younger members of the Ordnungspolizei, supplemented by Allgemeine-SS conscripts, were transferred to thirty newly created independent Police Regiments comprising around 100 battalions, each of 500 men. They were organised and equipped on military lines and served as security troops in the occupied countries. In February 1943, these German formations were officially designated SS-Police Regiments, to distinguish them from the recently formed native ‘Police Rifle’ units, and they subsequently gained a reputation for extreme brutality and fanatical loyalty to Himmler and the Nazi régime. Relatively few SS-Police Regiments were garrisoned in the west. The 4th, 14th, 19th and 29th went to France, and the 26th and 27th to Norway, while Denmark was allocated only two police battalions. In Belgium, no German police deployment at all was felt necessary. The Italian situation was somewhat more volatile, with widespread partisan activity after 1943, and necessitated the presence of the 10th, 12th and 15th SS-Police Regiments and several local units.


Soldiers of the Polizei-Division, distinguished by their use of a combination of army, police and SS uniform insignia, during mortar training, April 1940.

The vast majority of SS-Police Regiments were posted to Russia, eastern Europe and the Balkans, where roaming partisan bands of brigade strength or even larger caused constant havoc behind the German lines. In 1942, Himmler was made responsible for all counter-guerrilla operations, and he appointed SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach, formerly head of Oberabschnitt Nordost, as his Chief of Anti-Partisan Units (Chef der Bandenkampfverbände). It quickly became apparent that the territories to be controlled, particularly in Russia, were so vast that the SS-Police needed additional support. Consequently, various pro-German local militias and home guard units composed mainly of Balts, Cossacks and Ukrainians were consolidated into an auxiliary police force known as the Schutzmannschaft der Ordnungspolizei, or Schuma, later expanded to include a Schutzmannschaft der Sicherheitspolizei. Members of the Schuma were generally nationalists at heart, whose main aim was the defeat of communism, and they viewed the Germans as liberators. Moreover, on a practical level, their service in the Schuma ensured that they and their families received favourable treatment from the Nazis. Schuma units often committed terrible atrocities against their own compatriots, in an effort to prove that their loyalty to the Reich was beyond question and that they were ‘more German than the Germans’.


This postcard, produced for ‘German Police Day’ in 1942, depicts members of the Ordnungspolizei and Sicherheitspolizei on joint patrol on the eastern front. Its symbolism emphasises the close ties between the SS and the police, and the fact that both organisations were fully involved in combat.


While he was HSSPf in Serbia, SS-Gruppenführer August Meyszner (left) was responsible for all counter-guerrilla operations in the country. Here he confers with SS-Obergruppenführer Artur Phleps of the ‘Prinz Eugen’ division during the spring of 1943. Of particular note are the differing patterns of collar patch and the puttees worn by both men.

In Poland, twelve SS-Police Regiments supported the Wehrmacht in maintaining order, backed up by the Polish police and twelve Schuma battalions. Fourteen SS-Police Regiments served in Byelorussia, as did seven Police Rifle Regiments, which were mixed German-Russian units, and a vast number of Schuma battalions. In Estonia, twenty-six Schuma battalions were formed, being redesignated ‘Estonian Police Battalions’ in May 1943 and issued with German police uniforms on account of their reliable record. An estimated 15,000 Latvians and 13,000 Lithuanians served in sixty-four other Schuma battalions which were deployed right across the eastern front, from the Ostland to Yugoslavia, while the Ukraine alone supplied 70,000 volunteers to staff a further seventy-one Schuma battalions. In Croatia, pro-Nazis set up a regimental-sized ‘Einsatzstaffel’, based on the Allgemeine-SS and dressed in quasi-SS uniform, and 15,000 more went into a multi-national ‘German-Croatian Gend-armerie’ of thirty battalions. On a smaller scale, the Serbians produced ten auxiliary police battalions, and the Albanians two Police Rifle Regiments. All of these native auxiliary formations (and there were many more than those mentioned briefly here) were completely separate from the foreign legions of the Wehrmacht. They were police organisations directly subordinate to the local Orpo and Sipo commanders and, ultimately, took their orders from Himmler through his HSSPfs. In effect, they were remote extensions of the Allgemeine-SS, operating in the occupied territories.

Each Oberabschnitt commander normally held the post of Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer or HSSPf, the Senior SS and Police Commander in the region. He acted as Himmler’s representative and had technical jurisdiction over all SS and police formations based in the Oberabschnitt. The close relationship between the SS and police subsequently resulted in a joint admin-istration at regional level, and this amalgamation was particularly convenient in newly occupied territories where it was necessary rapidly to set up tried and tested administrative structures for both the SS and the police. In the conquered countries, therefore, as in Germany itself, SS headquarters and police command posts were usually established in the same building, with frequent interdepartmental transfers of staff. During 1943–4, Hans Prützmann became Höchste SS- und Polizeiführer (Supreme SS and Police Commander) in southern Russia, and a similar post was held by Karl Wolff in Italy, making these two officers the highest ranking of all the HSSPfs.

Subordinate to the HSSPfs, a number of local SS- und Polizeiführer and Polizeigebietsführer directed SS and police operations in areas particularly troubled by partisans and other civil insurgents. In addition, each major city across Germany and the occupied territories had its Befehlshaber der Ordnungspolizei (BdO) and its Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (BdS), whose authorities were restricted to their local uniformed police and security police forces, respectively.

In practice, the ultimate authority of the Senior SS and Police Commanders was increasingly challenged during the war by the Chiefs of the SS Hauptämter, who felt that they should have supremacy in all matters relating to the functioning of their departments, and also by Waffen-SS generals, who demanded total autonomy of action in deploying their troops. In so doing, they went against Himmler’s direct orders, for the HSSPf system was devised as an essential administrative step in the Reichsführer’s planned progression towards the Staatsschutzkorps, and he bolstered it to the end. He regularly issued decrees confirming the jurisdiction of his HSSPfs over all SS and police officials in their regions, without exception, specifically including members of the Allgemeine-SS, Waffen-SS, Orpo, Sipo and SD, and representatives of the Hauptamt RKF and VOMI. However, as the Reich began to fall back on all fronts, the HSSPfs in previously occupied territories had their fiefdoms snatched away from them by the advancing Allies, and the struggle for survival overtook the grand notion of the State Protection Corps. By 1945, the HSSPfs had become figureheads with little or no means of actually directing the vast forces still technically under their command.

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