The Development of the Waffen-SS

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The Waffen-SS was the combat wing of the Nazi Party's Schutzstaffel, as well as the multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of Nazi Germany. Throughout the length of the war it would go from a shabby fighting force to the most brutal, feared, and detested military organization in the world.
The Waffen-SS started from three regiments and expanded to over 38 divisions during World War II, serving alongside the Wermacht, but never officially becoming part of it. Adolf Hitler resisted assimilating the Waffen-SS into the army as it was supposed to become a specialized police force at the end of the war. Prior to the war it was under the command of Heinreich Himmler, but upon mobilization control was given to the German High Command.
In the attack on Poland in September of 1939, the Waffen-SS was tactically inferior to the Wermacht and suffered comparatively large losses. They partially made up for this during the attack on France in the spring of 1940, where they were exceptionally successful. After the latter event, another division was ordered to be created. Hitler accredited this achievement to what he called a “fierce will – the sense of superiority personified.”
In mid-1941, on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, the Waffen-SS numbered just 160,000. It had six divisions (Leibstandarte, Das Reich, Totenkopf, Polizei, Wiking and Nordland). It was reserved to play a major part in the attack on Russia, and Himmler had made it plain what was expected of them.
Hitler had already told his Wehrmacht generals that the attack on Russia was to be carried out with “unprecedented, unrelenting and unmerciful harshness.” The Waffen-SS made its name in Russia for its unwavering determination in attack and its cruelty to prisoners and civilian...

... middle of paper ... had lost all faith in the Wehrmacht. He appointed Sepp Dietrich to lead the counter-attack in the Ardennes – known popularly as the Battle of the Bulge. Waffen-SS units fought hard enough that they managed to successfully push back the Allies temporarily. Their advance was only stopped by lack of fuel for their tanks. At Malmedy the SS showed its darker side when American POW’s were killed after what is thought to have been a singular escape attempt gone wrong. After the war, Leibstandarte SS officer Joachim Peiper was sentenced to death for his part in this massacre, but was later sentences to life in prison instead.
The legacy of the Waffen-SS is much less than direct. On many occasions they proved themselves an elite fighting force, many times on both fronts. However, the harsh aspects of the war that are linked to the Waffen-SS have tainted their acheivments.

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