SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer was (from 1942 to 1945) the highest commissioned SS rank with the exception of Reichsführer-SS, which was a special rank held by Heinrich Himmler. Correctly the rank was spelled Oberst-Gruppenführer to avoid confusion with the Obergruppenführer rank junior to it.
Oberst-Gruppenführer was considered the equivalent of a colonel general (Generaloberst) in the Wehrmacht, which, in turn, is generally seen as the equivalent of four-star rank or army general in other armed forces.
First created in the spring of 1942, the Oberst-Gruppenführer rank was held by four men during the three years of its existence, of which only two held Waffen-SS field commands. The rank of Oberst-Gruppenführer was conceived originally as a Waffen-SS rank, with the intent being to appoint its holders to be the SS commanders of certain panzer armies. However, appointments were delayed by the General Staff of the Wehrmacht, who did not want an SS general to hold that much power. In April 1942, the first two appointments were at last issued on Adolf Hitler's personal authority. Both were political SS appointments with the second one being a dual promotion within the Ordnungspolizei, making Kurt Daluege a Generaloberst der Polizei at the same time. Daluege's rank was the only police promotion to this rank; the other promotion was for party treasurer and RZM chief Franz Xaver Schwarz.
The last two of the four Oberst-Gruppenführer promotions were made in 1944, this time to Waffen-SS generals. The Oberst-Gruppenführer rank was only ever worn on the field-grey Waffen-SS tunic or the grey SS service tunic (or, in Daluege's case, police uniform), and there are no photographic records of the insignia ever being worn on the black ceremonial uniform, which had largely fallen into disuse by the time the rank was created.
In all, the following individuals held this highest of SS ranks:
- Josef "Sepp" Dietrich, 20 April 1942 (und Panzer-Generaloberst der Waffen-SS)
- Franz Xaver Schwarz, 20 April 1942 (Ehrenführer, honorary leader)
- Kurt Daluege, 20 April 1942 (und Generaloberst der Polizei)
- Paul Hausser, 1 August 1944 (und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS)
In 1944, Himmler offered to appoint Albert Speer to the honorary rank of Oberst-Gruppenführer. Speer declined, not wishing to formally be subordinate to Himmler. Hermann Göring was also offered the rank in 1945, but refused to accept the position due to his dislike of Himmler. Himmler's successor, Karl Hanke, never held the rank of Oberst-Gruppenführer, but was appointed Reichsführer-SS from the lower grade of Obergruppenführer. Karl Wolff furthermore claimed to have been promoted to the rank in April 1945 by personal decree of Adolf Hitler; Wolff's claim is not supported by either documentary or photographic evidence, leading most history texts to list his final rank as Obergruppenführer.
Those obtaining the rank of Oberst-Gruppenführer were also typically granted equivalent police or Waffen-SS general rank. Franz Xaver Schwarz, who held Ehrenführer (honorary) rank, was the only holder of the rank who was not granted equivalent police or Waffen-SS rank.
The rank Oberst-Gruppenführer has also appeared in fiction, and was depicted in Robert Harris's novel Fatherland, set in the 1960s in a parallel history where Germany had won the Second World War. In the novel, Arthur Nebe makes an appearance as an SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer while serving as commander of the Kriminalpolizei. The insignia for Oberst-Gruppenführer is also worn by Ian McKellen as the dictator-king Richard III in the film adaptation of the play, set in 1930s Great Britain.
- Insignia of rank SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer and Colonel-general of the Waffen-SS
- McNab 2009, p. 30.
- Haskew 2011, p. 46.
- Dietrich had commanded the 1st SS Panzer Division and the 1st SS Panzer Corps, and would command the 6th SS Panzer Army in the Battle of the Bulge. Hausser had commanded the 2nd SS Panzer Division, the 2nd SS Panzer Corps and the 7th Army, and would command Army Group G.
- Dienstaltersliste der Waffen-SS,1 July 1944, #1
- Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer
- Haskew, Michael (2011). The Wehrmacht. Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-907446-95-5.
- McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945. Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 1906626499.
- Williamson, Gordon (1995). Loyalty is my Honor: Personal Accounts from the Waffen-SS, Motorbooks Intl. ISBN 0-7603-0012-7.
- Yerger, Mark C. (1997). Allgemeine-SS: The Commands, Units and Leaders of the General SS. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7643-0145-4.
- SS-service records of Kurt Daluege, Paul Hausser, and Sepp Dietrich: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.