The Schutzstaffel (German for "Protective Echelon"), abbreviated SS- or (Runic)- is a major Nazi organization in Germany. It fulfills a variety of functions including protection of the regime, an alternate land combat force, the police force, management of the concentraton camps, and other functions.
The SS started as a bodyguard force for Adolf Hitler. Over the years, it took on additional functions. There are three basic components of the SS:
- Allgemeine SS (General-SS)
- SS-Totenkopfverbande (Death's Head Units)
The SS-Führungshauptamt (English: SS Leadership Main Office) is the supreme headquarters of the SS. It is theoretically part of the Allgemeine SS.
The Allgemeine SS or General SS is the administrative and security wing of the SS. Its primary function is policing the Reich, and coordinating Europe's police forces. The Allgemeine SS consists of the following sub-agencies:
- SS-Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab RFSS (HaPerStab - Personal Staff of the Reichsfuhrer-SS)
- SS Führungshauptamt (SS FHA - SS Leadership Main Office)
- SS Personalhauptamt (SS PHA - SS Personnel Main Office)
- Hauptamt SS-Gericht (HA SS-Gericht - SS Court Head Office)
- SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA - Reich Main Security Office)
- SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (RuSHA - Race and Settlement Main Office)
- Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VOMI - Main Welfare Office for Ethnic Germans)
- SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS-WVHA - Main SS Economic and Administrative Department)
- Sanitätsstaffel (SS Medical Corps)
see main article SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt
The SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office) is the lead law enforcement and security organisation of Germany.
The Sanitätsstaffel (SS Medical Corps) provides all medical services for the SS. SS Medical Corps officers are attached to other SS units. Most SS Medical officers serve with the Waffen-SS. Every Waffen-SS Brigade has a Medical Regiment. This regiment provides Regimental Aid Posts for every Waffen-SS battalion. At Brigade level, more elaborate care facilities are provided. There are several independent SS Field Hospitals which can deploy with divisions or corps.
For the General-SS, the SS Medical Corps has medical posts on SS bases throughout Germany, which provide free health care to SS members and families. The SS Medical Corps provide the Reich Security Main Office with medical assistance including aid for injured police officers. The SS-RSHA's forensic scientists are also drawn from the SS Medical Corps. The SS Medical Corps provide doctors to the Concentration Camps. Officially, their job is to provide medical services to the guards and inmates. It is rumoured that SS doctors attached to Concentration Camps use the inmates for medical experimentation. SS Medical Corps staff are rarely attached to the same unit for their entire careers, with moves between the Waffen-SS, General-SS, Concentration Camps, and SS-RSHA being frequent.
see main article: Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS are the military wing of the SS. They consist of 23 divisions (8 Panzer, 8 Panzergrenadier, 6 Infantry Divisions, and 1 Mountain Division) plus a number of Corps headquarters, independent artillery brigades, and other independent units. It is under the operational control of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW). The Kommandoamt der Waffen-SS (English: Command Department of the Waffen-SS) is responsible for administration, equipment, and recruiting only. It is part of the SS-Führungshauptamt, but is staffed by Waffen-SS personnel only.
The SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-Death's Head Units) manage Germany's system of concentration camps. It is divided into High Regional Commands, Regional Commands, and Gau Commands. Under each Gau Command are the concentration camps in that Gau. There is also a Training Command based at Dachau and a Headquarters Command in Berlin. There are also two Outer High Regional Commands, one for Ostland and one for the Ukraine. These are divided into Provincial Commands which control local concentration camps. Some Concentration Camps such as Dachau and Auschwitz are designated "Command Camps" and control a network of smaller satellite camps. The SS-Totenkopfverbande are the basis for the 3rd. SS Panzergrenadier Division – Totenkopf.
Commentary of the SS structure
The SS exemplifies the confused structure of the Third Reich. The only part of the SS with clear organisation is the Waffen-SS at and below Division level (or at Corps level where the Waffen-SS commands a corp). In concentration camps, no less than three SS departments claim responsibility, the Reich Security Main Office, the Main SS Economic and Administrative Department, and the SS-Totenkopfverbande. At the lower levels, there is cooperation as necessary. In practice, the Waffen-SS ignores the remainder of the SS wherever possible.
The SS use a variety of uniforms for different purposes and different branches.
Service Dress Uniform - Worn for general duties. Can also be worn with a Field Cap, or Side Cap.
Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Honour Guard Uniform - Worn by ceremonial guards at the Großer Platz and the Berghof
Working Dress - Worn when service dress would be inappropriate.
Death's Head Unit Working Dress - Working dress for Concentration Camp guards.
See Waffen-SS Uniforms.