Units and commands of the Schutzstaffel
Units and commands of the Schutzstaffel were organizational titles used by the SS to describe the many groups, forces, and formations that existed within the SS from its inception in 1923 to the eventual fall of Nazi Germany in 1945.
The SS unit nomenclature can be divided into several different types of organizations, mainly the early titles used by the SS, SS unit titles of the Allgemeine-SS, the military formation titles used by the Waffen-SS, titles of commands associated with the SS Security Police, and special units titles used by such SS organizations as the death squad units of the Einsatzgruppen.
- 1 Early SS commands
- 2 Allgemeine-SS commands
- 3 Waffen-SS commands
- 4 Senior SS commands
- 5 Security police commands
- 6 Death's Head commands
- 7 Special Unit commands
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
Early SS commands
From 1920 through 1925, several early paramilitary terms were used to describe the various groups which would eventually become the SS. Among the most were:
- Saal-Schutz ("Hall-Protection"): Formed at the end of 1920. It was a small permanent guard unit made up of NSDAP volunteers to provide security for Nazi Party meetings in Munich. It was disband after Hitler was sentenced to prison in 1924.
- Stosstrupp ("Shock Troops"): A carry over from World War I, early bodyguard units of the fledging Nazi Party were typically referred to by this title.
- Stabswache ("Headquarters Guard"): Used by several units of the Freikorps, and adopted by both the Sturmabteilung (SA) and later the SS.
- Schutzkommando ("Protection Command"): Also a title of the Freikorps, this was one of the early names for the SS before the group adopted its final name of the Schutzstaffel in 1925.
In September 1925, the then fledgling SS established its first organizational structure, using the following titles:
- Oberleitung ("Senior Leadership"): This was the headquarters staff of the SS (then only a mere battalion of the Nazi Stormtroopers) and was headquartered in Munich.
- SS-Gau ("SS-Region"): There were five SS-Regions established throughout Germany, headed by an SS leader known as an SS-Gauführer (Region Leader).
- SS-Staffel ("SS-Squadron"): These was the standard unit of the early SS in the late 1920s. An SS-Squadron contained a company of ten men, headed by an officer known as an "SS-Staffelführer" (this title was quickly shortened to simply "SS-Führer").
In January 1929, after Heinrich Himmler took over leadership of the SS, old organizational titles were done away with and the following terms came into being:
- Oberstab ("Senior Staff"): This was the new name of the SS headquarters, now under Himmler's command.
- Abteilung ("Department"): The term Abteilung was used to describe the earliest form of the SS Main Offices and were considered subordinate offices attached to the Oberstab. The SS offices of 1929 encompassed administration, personnel, finance, security, and racial matters.
- SS-Oberführerbereiche ("Senior Leadership Area"): By 1930, the old SS-Gaus had been consolidated into three senior leadership areas encompassing east and west Germany (including northern areas of the country) and a region encompassing southern Germany which was considered the most important since this was the location of the main Nazi Party offices. Each Oberführerbereiche was commanded by an Oberführer.
In 1931, as SS membership began to surpass 100,000, Himmler again reorganized the SS and created these new command titles:
- SS-Amt ("SS-Office"): Originally there were three SS offices; the Headquarters Office (SS-Amt), the Race Office (SS-Rasseamt) and the Security Office (Sicherheitsdienst Amt). By 1933, these offices would be renamed under the title of Hauptamt which would remain the standard name for an SS main office for the duration of the group's existence.
- SS-Gruppen ("SS-Groups"): These were the earliest division commands of what would become the Allgemeine-SS. There were five SS-Groups originally established: North, South, East, West, and Southwest. Each SS-Group was commanded by a Gruppenführer.
- SS-Brigaden ("SS-Brigades"): The SS brigades were intermediary commands between the SS-Groups and lower SS regiment commands known as Standarte. Each SS-Brigade was commanded by a Brigadeführer.
The core of the "General-SS" were the mustering formations spread throughout Germany, divided into several division sized formations and extending downwards into brigade, regiment, battalion, company, and squad like formations. Most of these formations were "part time" and mustered weekly or monthly without pay. The Allgemeine-SS used unique names for these formations which were different from standard military terms in use by the German military.
Initially, General-SS formations were operated strictly in Germany and Austria but would later be formed in occupied countries during World War II. Most often, Allgemeine-SS units in occupied territories were "paper commands", formed under the authority of an SS and Police Leader (who would serve as a dual commander) in order to give senior SS officers in occupation commands a command billet within the General-SS.
- SS-Oberabschnitt ("SS-Senior District"): This division level command was the main administrative district for the Allgemeine-SS and the highest command level in the Allgemeine-SS order of battle. The first Oberanschnitt were formed in the 1934 from the older SS-Gruppen units. The Oberabschnitt were usually commanded by a Gruppenführer or Obergruppenführer. Once World War II began, Oberabschnitt leaders typically served simultaneously as SS and Police Leaders (in occupied countries this was always the case). The Oberabschnitt commander was known by the title of "Führer" and was assisted by a staff which typically comprised departments encompassing training, medical affairs, as well as specialty commands such as SS-signals battalions and engineer units.
- SS-Abschnitt ("SS-District"): The Abschnitt commands were formed in the early 1930s from the old SS-Brigades. The function and operation of the Abschnitt's was essentially the same as with the Oberabschnitts, but the units were usually commanded by an SS-Brigadeführer or Oberführer. SS-Abschnitt's were annoated in correspondence with Roman numerals while the Oberabschnitt commands were given proper names. As with the Oberabschnitt commanders, once World War II began many Abschnitt leaders became corresponding SS and Police Leaders for their areas.
- SS-Standarte ("SS-Regiment"): The Standarten was the primary unit of the General-SS, named after the term for a "Regimental Standard", or flag. The Standarte were organized into regimental sized formations each with its own number, but also were referred to by other names, such as location, a popular name, or the name of a Nazi hero. For example, the 18th SS-Standarte in Königsberg was named "Ostpreußen" while the 6th SS-Standarte of Berlin was named "Graham Kämmer". The standard rank for the Standarte Leader was that of Standartenführer.
- SS-Sturmbann ("SS-Storm Unit"): The Sturmbann commands were battalion formations within a Standarte, usually three or four in number. These units were commanded by either a Sturmbannführer or Obersturmbannführer.
- SS-Sturm ("SS-Company"): The Sturm was the company level formation of the General-SS and the most typical in which an average SS member would associate with. Company commanders usually rated a rank between Untersturmführer and Hauptsturmführer.
- SS-Trupp ("SS-Troop"): SS-Troops were platoon sized formations commanded by an SS non-commissioned officer initially known as a Truppführer. After the Night of the Long Knives, the SS renamed its rank structure and Trupps then fell under the command of Oberscharführers and Hauptscharführers.
- SS-Schar ("SS-Squad"): SS-Squads were eight to ten man formations that served as the primary mustering unit wihin each SS-Company. Such units were commanded by an SS-Scharführer with an Assistant Squad Leader rated as an Unterscharführer.
- SS-Rotte ("SS-Section"): This was the smallest unit of the General-SS and usually consisted of four to five SS members. The SS-Section would be commanded by an SS-Rottenführer and would consisted of SS troopers holding the rank of Mann or Sturmmann.
The Allgemeine-SS also formed several cavalry commands, which were mainly intended to attract German nobility into the ranks of the SS. These formations were little more than equestrian riding clubs and, by the start of World War II, the General-SS Cavalry had mostly ceased to exist except for a handful of members. The command names of the General-SS cavalry were modeled after those of the regular mustering SS formations and were separate from the military cavalry terms of the Waffen-SS.
- SS-Reiterabschnitt ("SS-Cavalry District"): Modeled in the same manner as the SS-Abschnitt commands, only nine of these commands were ever established.
- SS-Reiterstandarte ("SS-Cavalry Regiment"): There were twenty four cavalry regiments established by the Allgemeine-SS. These units wore a special crossed lances unit insignia. in comparison to the regular Standartes which displayed a unit patch bearing the Standarten number.
The Waffen-SS used standard Army military unit titles, in the following hierarchy.
- Army: Only two SS armies were ever established and contained primarily subordinate Regular Army commands
- Corps: Several SS Corps existed; these commands were usually the highest operational position in the Waffen-SS
- Division: There were 38 full divisions established in the Waffen-SS. Many late war SS divisions never reached full strength, some no larger in reality than a battalion.
- Brigades: SS brigades were independently formed at the start of World War II, eventually merged into the higher divisions
- Regiments: The main-stay combat unit of the Waffen-SS, typically commamnded by an SS-Standartenführer
- Battalions: Subordinate to a regiment and the first of the "front line" operational combat units
- Companies: Referred to as Kompanie
- Platoons: Referred to as Zug
- Squads: Referred to as Gruppen. This created an oddity in that a Waffen-SS squad leader (usually a junior NCO) was referred to as a "Gruppenführer" when this title was also a rank equivalent to a Lieutenant General.
- Teams: Basic fire team formations of five to seven soldiers
Senior SS commands
By the mid-1930s, the SS leadership had grouped itself into two major senior commands which would last throughout World War II. The two most senior positions in the SS, apart from the Reichsfuhrer-SS, were the SS and Police Leaders and the SS Main Office Commanders.
SS and Police Leaders
A war-time office which was granted considerable power was that of the SS and Police Leader. This unique position was a command authority of every SS unit in a given geographical area. SS and Police leaders had control over administrative SS commands, Nazi concentration camps, security forces, and (as World War II progressed) certain units of the Waffen-SS.
There were three levels of SS and Police Leaders, these being:
- Supreme SS and Police Leader (Höchste SS und Polizeiführer (HöSSPF)): These SS and Polcie Leaders had command over all SS units in a conquered country. There were only two such commands established, one in the Ukraine and the other in Italy.
- Higher SS and Police Leader (Höhere SS und Polizeiführer (HSSPF)): These commands held authority over a region, district, or state.
- SS and Police Leader (SS und Polizeiführer (SSPF)): These SS commands were in charge or specific cities, usually important or significant ones.
Main office commands
There were eventually twelve main offices of the SS, these being:
- Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab Reichsführer-SS
- SS Hauptamt (SS-HA)
- SS Führungshauptamt (SS-FHA)
- Hauptamt SS Gericht
- SS Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt (RuSHA)
- SS Personalhauptamt
- Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA)
- Hauptamt Ordnungspolizei (ORPO)
- Wirtschafts und Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA)
- Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VOMI)
- Hauptamt Dienststelle Heissmeyer
- Hauptamt Reichskommissar für die Festigung Deutschen Volkstums (RKFDV)
The heiraracy of command in the main offices was:
- Office Chief (Chef): The Chief of a Main Office was referred to by the title of Chef followed by the office code. For instance, Reinhard Heydrich was known by the title Chef, RSHA while serving as the overall office commander of the Reich Main Security Office.
- Department Chief (Amtschef): The title of department chief was the most commonly used and held by countless SS officers and could be extended to sub-department heads, as well. For example, Heinrich Müller was department chief of the RSHA "Amt IV" (Dept. 4): the Gestapo. Adolf Eichmann was the commander of (Referat IV B4) or Sub-Department IV B4 that was the Gestapo's inner department of Jewish Affairs. He was known as the Amtschef, RSHA (IV-B4), and was Müller's subordinate.
- Chief of Staff (Chef des Stabs): Each department typically had a Chief of Staff, known by the title "Chief of the Staff" to avoid confusion with the title "Stabschef", which was a rank of the Nazi stormtroopers.
Below the level of Department heads existed a plethora of administrative and bureaucratic titles to indicate positions as Assistant Department Heads, staff officers, and other clerical duties within the various main offices.
Security police commands
The offices of the Gestapo in major towns and cities were known as "Stapo-Leitstellen". Smaller towns and some villages maintained smaller Gestapo offices known simply as "Stapostellen". The Sicherheitsdienst was organized in a different manner, grouped in SD-Abschnitte with smaller SD-Unterabschnitte commands (SD districts and sub-districts). Both the Gestapo, SD, and the similarly organized Kriminalpolizei were overseen by an SS Police official known as Inspektor des Sicherheitspolizei und SD.. In occupied territories, this commander was known by the alternate title Befehlshaber.
Death's Head commands
Special Unit commands
- Lumsden, Robin (2000), p. 7
- Yeger, p. 82
- Yerger, p. 82
- Yerger, pp. 82, 117
- Yerger, pp. 169, 172, 178
- Lumsden (2001), p. 83
- Lumsden (2001), pp. 80-84
- Lumsden (2001), p. 84
- Yerger, Mark (1997). Allgemeine-SS. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7643-0145-4.
- Lumsden, Robin (2000). A Collector's Guide To: The Waffen–SS, Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7110-2285-2.
- Lumsden, Robin (2001). A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS, Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7110-2905-9.