Uniforms and insignia of the Schutzstaffel

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The uniforms and insignia of the Schutzstaffel were paramilitary ranks and uniforms used by the SS between 1925 and 1945 to differentiate that organization from the regular German armed forces, the German state, and the Nazi Party.

Uniform design and function[edit]

2nd pattern SS Totenkopf or death's head, 1934–45

While a multitude of uniforms existed for the SS, often depending on the theatre of war where they were stationed, the all black SS uniform is the most well known. Black was seen as sombre and authoritative. The black-white-red color scheme was characteristic of the German Empire, and was later adopted by the Nazi Party. Further, black was popular with fascist movements: a black uniform was introduced by the blackshirts in Italy before the creation of the SS. There was a traditional reason, as well. Just as the Prussian kings' and emperors' life-guard cavalry (Leibhusaren) had worn black uniforms with skull-and-crossbones badges, so would the Führer's bodyguard unit.[a] As with many more formal military uniforms, these SS uniforms were tailored to project authority, and foster fear and respect. As Himmler put it, "I know there are many people who fall ill when they see this black uniform; we understand that and don't expect that we will be loved by many people."[1]

During the war, the German clothing factory that eventually became the international menswear powerhouse Hugo Boss produced thousands of SS and other uniforms.[2]

Once the war began, however, the black uniform was seldom worn. The combat units of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) and the later Waffen-SS wore a variation of the field-grey (grey-green) (feldgrau) army (Heer) uniform with SS insignia. The majority of SS personnel wore variations of the Waffen-SS uniform or the grey-green SS service tunic. Branches with personnel that normally would wear civilian attire in the Reich (such as the Gestapo and Kripo) were issued grey-green SS uniforms in occupied territory to avoid being mistaken for civilians.

SS uniforms used a variety of insignia, the most standard of which were collar patches to denote rank and shoulder boards to denote rank and position, along with sleeve cuffbands and "sleeve diamond" patches to indicate membership in specific branches of the SS. However, most of these uniforms fell apart as they were often made out of weaker material than normal cotton. They were highly flammable and would usually burn off of their wearer after shot. They were later discontinued because of this flaw in their design.[citation needed]

Uniforms designs and styles[edit]

Early SS uniforms (1925–1928)[edit]

The traditional "Danziger" Totenkopf worn by the SS 1923–34

The SS can trace its origins to several early Freikorps and Nazi Party formations, among them the Erhardt Naval Brigade, Stahlhelm, and most significantly the Sturmabteilung (SA), of which the SS was originally a subordinate organization.

The very first SA uniforms and insignia were paramilitary uniforms fashioned by early Nazis which incorporated parts from World War I uniforms to include such features used by other Freikorps formation such as high boots, daggers, and the kepi hat. The 8-man Stabswache (staff guard), Hitler's bodyguard, soon renamed the Stosstrupp (shock troop), also adopted in May 1923 the death's head and oak leaf as a means of insignia, both of which were already deeply rooted in European military history.

In 1924, while the Nazi Party was legally banned following the Beer Hall Putsch, Frontbann (underground SA) leader Gerhard Roßbach located a large store of war-surplus brown denim shirts in Austria, originally intended for tropical uniforms.[3] When the SA (which included the nascent SS) was re-founded in 1925 following Hitler's release from prison, these brown shirts were issued as uniforms. The only insignia was the swastika armband, usually homemade, except for the handful of men constituting the Stosstrupp's successor, the Schutzkommando ("protection command"), who continued the use of the Totenkopf pinned to cap or collar.

Early SS armband using the rank stripe system

In mid-1925, the Schutzkommando was renamed the Sturmstaffel (storm squadron) and in December the Schutzstaffel (protection squadron), and in the following year adopted its first recognizable rank insignia system which was used mainly by senior SS personnel at major rallies, with the rank and file of the SS, like the rest of the SA, still wearing a variety of brown shirts or paramilitary uniforms with no recognizable insignia.

The early rank system of 1926 consisted of a swastika armband worn with white stripes, with the number of stripes determining the rank of the bearer. Thus, the very first SS rank system was as follows:

Under the above system, basic SS troopers were organized into 10-man Staffeln, each under the authority of a Staffelführer. SS districts, known as SS-Gaus, were under the authority of a Gauführer while all SS district leaders answered to a national leader of the SS called the Reichsführer, at this time Josef Berchtold. In line with the Führerprinzip ("leader principle") of the Nazi Party's ideology, the word Führer was incorporated into all ranks except those for basic SS troopers.

By 1927, the Sturmabteilung had greatly increased its numbers and had standardized the "brown shirt" uniform which would thereafter be permanently associated with that group: shirt, tie, breeches, boots, and cylindrical kepi, all brown. As the SS was at this time a small unit within the SA, SS personnel during this period likewise wore brown shirt uniforms but distinguished themselves as an elite among the SA by wearing black neckties and black kepis with Totenkopf and Party eagle badges.

1st pattern Party eagle, worn by the SS 1927–36

By this time, with influences from the Stahlhelm, the SA leadership adopted its first collar insignia and also added a new SA rank of Standartenführer ("standard leader") in charge of regiment-sized Standarten (incorporating the company sized Staffeln); the SS at this time adopted the same rank as well.

The 1927 ranks had no insignia for SA/SS troopers (still known by the title "Mann") and the previous rank of Staffelführer had become shortened to simply Führer ("leader"). The higher SS ranks of Standartenführer, Gauführer, and Reichsführer like their SA counterparts now used a system of oak leaves displayed on both collars of the brown SA shirt. One oak leaf signified a Standartenführer, two a Gauführer, and three oak leaves were worn by Reichsführer-SS Berchtold and his successor Erhard Heiden, who reported directly to the Oberste SA-Führer.

Heinrich Himmler wearing an early SS uniform with Oberführer insignia in 1928

Over the course of the next year, the burgeoning SA saw the emergence of new units and ranks, and for the first time a comprehensive system of rank insignia. A basic squad unit, the 10-man Schar, was grouped into platoon-sized Truppen, and these into company-sized Stürme which in turn made up battalion-sized Sturmbanne. New ranks went with the new formations: Scharführer, with one pip worn on the left collar patch, Truppführer, two pips, Sturmführer, three pips, and Sturmbannführer, four pips. On the right collar of SA uniforms was worn a patch with two numbers indicating Standarte and Sturmbann affiliation. Because the SS numbered fewer than a thousand men, it did not adopt the Sturmbann unit at this time, and right-hand SS collar patches displayed the number of the Standarte only.

At the higher end of the organization, in 1928 the SA Gau-Stürme were restructured into regional Gruppen, each commanded by a leader with a new general-officer rank, Gruppenführer; its insignia was the three oak leaf collar patch. At this time the former rank of Gauführer was renamed Oberführer ("senior leader").

The collar patches of the SA were color-coded: each Gruppe had its own distinctive color. The SS was considered to be a Gruppe unto itself; its color, naturally, was black, and Reichsführer-SS Heiden held the rank of Gruppenfuhrer and wore its three-oakleaf insignia.

SS Brownshirts (1929–1932)[edit]

1930 pattern SS uniform with shoulder board

In 1929, under new Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the SS codified its first uniform regulations: the signature black color was extended to breeches, boots,[b] armband edges, and belt and crossbelt; the shirt collar was edged in black-and-white twist cord except for those of senior leaders, which were trimmed in silver.

The ability to produce and issue complete uniforms came about due both to the centralization of the Reichszeugmeisterei (RZM; national quartermaster office) under NSDAP Treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz, and to Himmler's expansion and reorganization of the fast-growing SS (from 280 members to 52,000 between 1929 and 1932) into several brigade sized Brigaden throughout Germany, each comprising three to five regiment-sized Standarten. Within the Standarten now existed two to three battalion-sized Sturmbanne ("storm units"), and beneath this level were the Stürme, Truppen, and Scharen.

The earliest SS rank system, used during the year 1929

For the lower ranks, the SS also specified that a patch showing the wearer's regiment (Standarte) would be worn opposite the badge of rank while the higher SS leaders would continue to wear oakleaf insignia on both collars. Collar tabs below the rank of Sturmführer were edged in black-and-white twist cord; those of Sturm and Sturmbann leaders used black-and-silver while those of senior leaders were edged in solid silver cord.

In addition to the collar unit insignia, the SS now created a cuffband system which was worn on the lower left sleeve. These cuffbands were black and displayed the bearer's Sturm number together with color-coded edges indicating the Sturmbann, which in conjunction with the collar insignia showed regiment, battalion and company affiliation. Leaders above the company level did not at this time use the cuffband system.

The holder of the title of Reichsführer was still considered an SA-Gruppenführer, with Reichsführer itself not yet an actual rank. In addition, for a brief period in 1929, the rank of Standartenführer was divided into two separate grades, known as Standartenführer (I) and Standartenführer (II); the insignia of one oak leaf was used for both positions. This situation was another reflection of the SS' rapid expansion: Oberführers now commanded the three newly created SS-Oberführerbereiche, east, west and south; and so a senior Standartenführer was promoted to command each SS-Brigade.

Hitler's personal guard, known at this stage by the original SS name of Stabswache (later to be known as the "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler"), was also expressing its independence and increasing its size under the leadership of Sepp Dietrich.

The Stennes Revolt of August 1930, in which members of the SA attacked the Berlin party Gau headquarters which was defended by the SS, had profound consequences for the SA and its relationship to its subordinate organization. In an open letter to Berlin SS leader Kurt Daluege, Adolf Hitler proclaimed SS Mann, deine Ehre heißt Treue! ("SS soldier, your honour is called loyalty!"). Subsequently, Meine Ehre heißt Treue ("My honour is called loyalty") was adopted by the SS as its motto. More significantly, Hitler cashiered SA head Franz Pfeffer von Salomon and assumed the position of Oberste SA-Führer personally, and simultaneously promoted both Himmler and Daluege to the new rank of SS-Obergruppenführer. Daluege was the SS leader of Northern Germany while Himmler controlled southern SS units out of Munich while serving as the National Leader for the SS; this move had the effect of rendering the loyal SS practically independent of the suspect SA, since Himmler and Daluege now outranked all SA commanders.

The transitional SS ranks of 1930

Another result of the Stennes Revolt was Hitler's recall of his old Putsch comrade Ernst Röhm from South America to take over the day-to-day running of the SA with the title of SA-Stabschef. While Hitler thought that this would bind the SA more firmly to him, Röhm had other ambitions, including the conversion of the paramilitary Sturmabteilung into an army. With his expansions, promotions, and changes to the SA, a revision of the SA rank system was required although the uniforms and titles essentially stayed the same. The first major change was the addition of new ranks modeled on the original titles created in 1928 but with the addition of "senior" and "head" designators (ober and haupt): these were Oberscharführer, Obertruppführer and Sturmhauptführer. The new rank insignia were created by adding a silver stripe to the collar pips of the next-lower rank.

SS Ranks 1931
Generals Officers Enlisted
Obergruppenführer Standartenführer Obertruppführer
Gruppenführer Sturmbannführer Truppführer
Brigadeführer Sturmhauptführer Oberscharführer
Oberführer Sturmführer Scharführer
Mann

A 1930 change to the SS uniform was the addition of a single narrow shoulder strap worn on the right side. There were four grades of shoulder strap: until 1933 a black-and-white pattern was worn by SS troopers, an epaulette of parallel silver cords by Sturm and Sturmbann leaders, a twisted pattern in silver cord by standarten-, ober- and Gruppenführers, and a braided silver shoulderboard by the two Obergruppenführers.

By 1931, Himmler was secure (or independent) enough to reorganize the SS, formerly one SA-Gruppe, into five SS-Gruppen divided into several Brigaden led by officers with the new rank of Brigadeführer; its insignia was the two oakleaves of an Oberführer with a pip.

SS black uniforms (1932–1934)[edit]

The black uniform for the Allgemeine SS

In 1932,[c] the SS introduced its most notorious uniform, the black ensemble designed by Karl Diebitsch (later to become an SS-Oberführer) and graphic designer SS-Sturmhauptführer Walter Heck.[4] The shirt remained brown as a nod to the SA, of which the SS was still nominally a part, but all else was black from high boots[d] to the new military-style peaked cap, aside from the red armband. SS men were also issued black wool greatcoats for inclement weather, which similarly carried the armband, epaulette and collar patches. Around this time a belt buckle featuring the motto Meine Ehre heißt Treue ("My Honor Is Loyalty") in its design was produced by the Overhoff firm to replace the SA buckle.[5]

Furthermore, several new ranks and insignia changes were introduced. The expanded rank system of 1932 still used the same collar pip method to denote position paired with a corresponding shoulder board, but added two new junior positions known as Sturmmann and Rottenführer. By this time, Himmler had also increased scrutiny on SS membership with a particular focus on proof of "Aryan" ancestry, and created a "candidate" position known as SS-Anwärter, which prospective SS members were required to hold for at least six months before formally joining the SS as an SS-Mann; an Anwärter wore no rank insignia.

With membership continuing to increase, Röhm invented two new officer ranks known as Obersturmführer and Obersturmbannführer. SS (and SA) officers ranked Standartenführer (colonel) and above wore rank insignia on both collars without the use of unit insignia; all personnel Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) and below wore a unit insignia patch opposite the badge of rank.

SS rank insignia pattern from 1933

In 1933, after Hitler had become Chancellor, the SS began to make more of a distinction between 'officers' and 'enlisted men;' an SS man could now only be promoted to Sturmführer with Himmler's approval, based upon the Reichsführer’s personal review of the candidate's application including his career resume or lebenslauf and recommendations from current and former superior officers. Note however that this system presupposed enlisted SS membership; Himmler always detested the army's class distinctions. It was forbidden for SS men to follow the army custom of addressing superior officers by prefixing Herr to their rank, and Kamerad was an approved form of address under most circumstances.

SS-Haupttruppführer insignia

At this time, the SS also began to revamp its unit collar insignia, shoulderboards, and sleeve cuffband system. These changes were introduced over a period of one year between 1933 and 1934 and began with the introduction of a new senior enlisted rank known as Haupttruppführer. The black-and-white enlisted shoulderboard became black-and-silver, and officers were brought into parallel with army practice: the twisted "cruller" board was assigned to the field-grade ranks (Sturmbannführer, Obersturmbannführer, and Standartenführer), and the braided boards to the general-equivalents of Oberführer through Obergruppenführer. In late 1934, enlisted collar patches changed from black-and-white to black-and-silver edging; all officers now wore silver-piped collar tabs.

LSSAH guard detail, Berlin 1938; note sig-runes insignia

Also in 1933, the runic "SS" runes insignia was introduced which would eventually become known as the symbol for the entire SS. The first use of the SS runes was as a unit insignia limited only to members of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler[6] which had transferred their headquarters from Munich to Berlin and had replaced the Army Chancellery Guard to become Hitler’s main protectors. It was at this time that the Leibstandarte moved from being a "paramilitary" formation armed with pistols and truncheons to "military", equipped with rifles, bayonets, and steel helmets. Their SS runes unit collar patch was to be worn on the right side of the tunic collar.[7] The adaptation of this particular unit insignia was largely the work of Sepp Dietrich who on 4 November 1933, declared the unit an independent formation and, although a part of the SS, answerable to Hitler alone.[8] Dietrich even went so far as to forbid entrance of Himmler into the Berlin Leibstandarte barracks and, for a brief few months in 1933, ordered his Leibstandarte soldiers to wear the black uniform without a swastika armband in order to differentate the bodyguard unit from the rank and file of the Allgemeine-SS ("General SS") units throughout Germany.

At the same time Dietrich and his Leibstandarte adopted the SS runes as their unit insignia, the full-time SS headquarters and command staffs began using a blank collar patch, without a unit number, to differentiate themselves from the "rank and file" SS units in Germany which were still using regiment Standarten numbers as their unit insignia. Thus, by the end of 1933, there were three unit collar insignia patches in existence: the SS runes used by the Leibstandarte, the blank collar patch used by the SS headquarters and command staff, and the numbered SS unit insignia worn by regular SS companies throughout Germany.

SS unit insignia (1934)

In 1934, with the rise of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), the SS runes unit insignia was expanded to these other formatations of the then fledgling military arm of the SS (later to become known as the Waffen-SS). To separate these new military formations from the main Leibstandarte regiment under Dietrich, the SS runes worn by the Verfügungstruppe displayed a small number corresponding to the particular SS-VT regiment of the bearer. In all, there were three possible numbers:

Runic "SS"1 for members of the Deutschland Regiment, Runic "SS"2 for Germania personnel, and (from 1938) Runic "SS"3 for members of the Der Führer Regiment. These insignia would survive throughout World War II and were kept in use after the three original regiments had expanded to brigade and division strength.

A collection of SS cuffbands

In addition to the expansion of the collar unit insignia system, the SS by 1934 had also greatly expanded the system of sleeve cuffbands which were now a standard part of the black uniform, worn on the lower left sleeve. Within the Allgemeine-SS companies, cuffbands were worn in conjunction with a unit collar patch to denote regiment, battalion, and company affiliation. While the unit collar patch displayed the wearer's Standarte (regiment) number, the number denoted on the cuffband indicated the Sturm, or company, while collared piping along the cuffband further denoted in which battalion (Sturmbann) a member served.

For those personnel serving above the regiment level, a bare cuffband was worn or a cuffband bearing a Roman numeral could be displayed. The Roman numeral cuffband indicated membership on the staff of the SS-Brigade so numbered, which by the end of 1934 had become known as an SS-Abschnitt. For the even higher levels, such as Himmler or the senior SS-Gruppe leaders (later known by the title SS-Oberabschnitt Führer) a solid silver cuffband was worn.

Within the early military SS, which included the Leibstandarte and the formations of the SS-Verfügungstruppe, a series of cuffbands were introduced which bore the name of the regiment to which the bearer was assigned. The most coveted of these was the "Adolf Hitler" cuffband, carrying the Führer’s name in Sütterlin script, which was worn solely by members of the Leibstandarte.

SS pre-war uniforms (1934–1938)[edit]

Heinrich Himmler's insignia for Reichsführer-SS

An event which significantly altered the SS rank and insignia structure was the Night of the Long Knives which occurred in June 1934. As a result of SS participation in the purge and execution of the SA leadership, the SS was declared an independent formation of the Nazi Party and several of the rank titles were renamed to completely separate the SS from its SA origins.

The most significant rank change was the creation of an actual rank of Reichsführer-SS (prior to 1934, Himmler had been regarded simply as an SS-Obergruppenführer). In addition to Himmler’s new rank, several of the original SS rank titles were renamed (although retained the same insignia), bringing about the final nomenclature of SS ranks which would be used until the conclusion of World War II and the fall of the SS in 1945.

SS rank (Pre-1934) SS rank (Post-1934)
SS-Scharführer SS-Unterscharführer
SS-Oberscharführer SS-Scharführer
SS-Truppführer SS-Oberscharführer
SS-Obertruppführer SS-Hauptscharführer
SS-Haupttruppführer SS-Sturmscharführer
SS-Sturmführer SS-Untersturmführer
SS-Sturmhauptführer SS-Hauptsturmführer

The change in SS rank titles applied mainly to the non-commissioned officer ranks as well as the ranks of Sturmführer and Sturmhauptführer which received new names. The titles of the remaining ranks remained unchanged.

SS gray service uniform, 1937

In the wake of the "Röhm-Putsch", the SS officially took over the concentration camps from the SA and police. Soon thereafter, camp guards began wearing the Totenkopf ("death's head") on the right collar patch, to distinguish themselves from the numbered Allgemeine-SS Standarten. This was inconsistent in the early days; some guards instead wore tabs with the initial of their camp (e. g. "D" for Dachau), and some wore blank tabs. About 1935, the black uniform proving impractical for daily service wear, the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps adopted a working uniform in "earth-brown" (erdbraun), which was identical in cut to the black tunic except for shoulderboards on both sides. In March 1936, the camp "service" was formally established as the third branch of the SS, the Totenkopfverbände or death's-head units.

At about this same time, for similar reasons, the military SS formations (the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and the SS-Verfügungstruppe) adopted a service uniform in what was termed "earth-gray" (erdgrau).[e] This also was based on the black uniform, but without the red Hakenkreuz armband, its place on the left sleeve being taken by an eagle-and-swastika patch, and worn with trousers and shoes or calf-high jackboots. In June 1938 this uniform was authorized for full-time Allgemeine-SS cadres as well; the LSSAH and SS-VT then adopted army-pattern shoulderboards to distinguish themselves from the general SS and emphasize their military role.

2nd pattern SS eagle, 1936-45

In February 1934, the Ehrenwinkel für Alte Kämpfer ("honor chevron for old campaigners") was introduced for all SS men who had joined the Nazi Party or a Party-affiliated organization prior to January 30, 1933; after the Anschluss, it was also authorized for Austrians who had joined the DNSAP prior to 18 February 1938. It took the form of a silver lace chevron worn on the right sleeve. During this period, the principal SS insignia also underwent design changes. The ancient jawless Danziger style of Totenkopf was gradually replaced by the 'classic' SS skull, a naturalistic design with grinning jaws; the old form was taken up by the army's newly formed Panzerwaffe. Additionally, in March 1936, Hitler approved a new art deco eagle with staggered wingtips for the SS, which was worn through the end of the war as a cap badge and on the sleeve.

Sicherheitsdienst sleeve diamond (raute)

By the end of 1938, the SS had also adopted a new insignia feature of sleeve diamonds worn on the bottom of the left sleeve. Between 1939 and 1940, the SS expanded its cuffband and sleeve diamond system into a vast array of over 30 cuffbands and more than 12 sleeve diamonds.

SS uniforms of World War II (1939–1945)[edit]

SS rank insignia for enlisted personnel and officers
SS senior and general officer rank insignia, before (top row) and after (bottom row) April 1942
Various unit insignia collar patches worn during World War II
Obersturmbannführer Otto Kumm in Waffen-SS uniform. Note the unauthorized Heer (army) style eagle together with SS Totenkopf on the peaked cap, the Sigrunen and rank tabs on the closed collar, and the shoulderboards similar to a Wehrmacht Oberstleutnant
A concentration camp SS-Scharführer wearing a gray-green field uniform. The silver-gray braid on the collar was used by all SS non-commissioned officers
M43 field tunic of an SD-Unterscharführer. Note that, in contrast to Wehrmacht practice, the SS wore the eagle-and-swastika device on the left sleeve, not the right breast

When World War II began in 1939, the Allgemeine-SS grey service uniforms took on a more military appearance with the somewhat ad-hoc adoption of Wehrmacht-style shoulderboards, except for SS generals, who, until 1942, continued to wear the narrow braided silver SS shoulderboards to denote flag rank. It was also at this time that the rank of SS-Oberführer lost its status as a general officer rank and was instead now regarded as more of a senior colonel position. The black uniform was increasingly seldom seen, eventually being worn only by part-time Allgemeine-SS reservists. The last ceremonial event at which the black uniforms were worn en masse was the Berlin victory parade following the fall of France in June 1940. In 1942, Himmler ordered most all of the black uniforms recalled and stripped of insignia. They were sent east for use by the native auxiliary police units and sent west to be used by Germanic-SS units such as the ones in the Netherlands and Denmark.[9] In 1937, the LSSAH and SS-VT had adopted a closed-collar feldgrau (grey-green) field uniform for combat wear, which with the outbreak of war became the standard uniform of what would soon be the Waffen-SS. This feldanzug was very similar to the Model 1936 Army field uniform; however, the SS version had a somewhat wider collar in feldgrau (grey-green) rather than Heer bottle-green,[f] the lower pockets were of the SS angled slash type, and the second button was placed lower to permit the collar optionally to be worn open with a necktie like the service-dress uniforms. The Totenkopf branch, which was designated the reserve for the Waffen-SS, also adopted this uniform. Waffen-SS Panzer troops wore a double-breasted black uniform similar to the Army model but somewhat different in cut; the SS also made extensive use of camouflage clothing as the war progressed. The full-time Allgemeine-SS cadres, especially Reichssicherheitshauptamt personnel, continued to wear the earth-grey service-dress uniform.

A unique situation developed during World War II with regards to SS ranks held by those who had served in Allgemeine-SS positions from before the outbreak of war and now wished to serve in combat conditions with the Waffen-SS. With such persons being SS members already, it was expected that they would join the Waffen-SS in order to serve in combat; some members in fact had no choice and were drafted for combat service due to their Allgemeine-SS billet being done away with or, in situations involving disciplinary actions, transferred into combat as the result of a hearing before an SS and police court; Wilhelm Höttl was one such example.

As a result of Allgemeine-SS members transferring into the Waffen-SS, a situation arose where an SS member would actually hold two separate ranks - one in the Allgemeine-SS and another in the Waffen-SS; it was further possible to hold a reserve commission in the regular German military (Klaus Barbie, who was a reserve Feldwebel ("sergeant") is one such example). Waffen-SS officers could also hold a regular or reserve commission, with most Allgemeine-SS members being appointed to the Waffen-SS reserves (the intent was to easily be able to place such members on inactive duty once the war had ended). With this policy, it was very common for SS members in the Waffen-SS to hold drastically different titles from their Allgemeine-SS duties; a Standartenführer in the regular SS could, for instance, serve as a Rottenführer (lance corporal) in a front line Waffen-SS company.

The security forces of the SS, such as SD troops which were part of the Einsatzgruppen, were also all considered part of the Allgemeine-SS, even though many of these persons (especially in the field) wore uniforms nearly identical to the Waffen-SS; to further the confusion, many agents of the security police (SiPo) in such "field" roles wore Waffen-SS uniform even though they were not ex officio members of any branch of the SS. By 1943, the SS had made a determined effort that most field personnel (including concentration camp staffs) were granted Waffen-SS ranks and, in 1944, any Allgemeine-SS who served in an area that commanded SS combat troops, was granted a Waffen-SS commission.

To add to the confusion of multiple rank titles, uniform regulations of this time created a mixture of pre-1939 SS shoulder boards, Wehrmacht-pattern shoulder boards, and police shoulder boards depending on the duties of the SS person in question. It was not until late 1944 that regulations specified that all grey-green SS uniforms should only display Wehrmacht-style shoulder boards, with the exception of SD and uniformed SiPo personnel who wore police-pattern shoulderboards with giftgrün ("poison green") underlay.[g]

Another uniform insignia change occurred in April 1942 with the creation of the rank SS-Oberstgruppenführer. This necessitated an insignia change for SS generals and all SS generals at this time began wearing Wehrmacht-style gold shoulder boards; Oberführers wore the shoulderboards of an army Oberst ("colonel") just as Standartenführers did. The sole exception was Heinrich Himmler who continued to wear the silver braided shoulderboard with oak leaves of his rank as Reichsführer-SS. At the same time the collar patches for general officers were revised; the 1942 pattern used three oakleaves, rather straighter than the old style, with zero to three pips indicating rank from Brigadeführer through Oberstgruppenführer.

SS uniform suppliers could not keep up with wartime demand and, as a result, the Waffen-SS and Totenkopfverbande frequently wore uniforms drawn from army stocks, with the addition of SS insignia. By the middle of World War II, a wide variety of uniforms could be observed, even within the same unit, and standardization was never complete as previous stocks were issued or recycled. Personnel in combat conditions, away from stable supply lines would combine uniform parts and insignia depending on what uniform parts were available.

Waffen-SS and SS-TV members during this period wore army-style shoulderboards with SS collar patches; edging of enlisted collar tabs was discontinued in 1940 while SS officers' collar patches continued to be trimmed in silver. Enlisted shoulderboards were made of black fabric as opposed to army dark green or field-grey (grey-green), and officers had a black underlay; all shoulderboards were piped in waffenfarbe (branch-color). Junior leaders (Sturmmann and Rottenführer) wore sleeve chevrons corresponding to army insignia (Gefreiter and Obergefreiter), but with black backing; SS non-commissioned officers wore army-style silver-grey braid around the collar.

The staffs of concentration camps had by now standardized the death's head collar patch, whereas between 1934 and 1938 the Totenkopf as well as various camp specific collar patches, displaying Germanic letters, had been used as unit insignia. Other unit insignia collar patches included a Standarte-number patch for most of the Allgemeine-SS, a blank collar patch worn by SS main office staffs and Sicherheitsdienst (and some SiPo) personnel, the sig-runes Waffen-SS patch (adopted after 1943 as the standard unit collar patch for most of the SS), and a numbered death's head patch which was used by personnel serving in field units of the Totenkopfverbaende; the three senior Totenkopfstandarten, formed into the Totenkopf division, would retain these collar patches throughout the war, but the remaining TK-Standarten were redesignated SS-Regimenter and switched to sig-runes in February 1941. As the war went on, the Waffen-SS recruited heavily among conquered populations, creating 'ethnic' brigades and divisions. These formations wore, in place of the sig-runes, distinctive unit collar patches identifying them as Freiwilligen (foreign volunteers). In the last days of World War II, the SS also created a twin swastika collar patch which was used by the "auxiliary SS" which were non-SS members conscripted to serve in concentration camp positions.

By 1943, a special staff non-commissioned officer position, known as Stabsscharführer had been adopted by the Waffen-SS. This position, equivalent to an army Hauptfeldwebel, was denoted by a special sleeve insignia and was not an actual rank, but rather a title for the head SS non-commissioned officer of a particular combat unit. The rank of Sturmscharführer was also unique to the Waffen-SS as a type of regimental sergeant major. The SS also, by this time, had created a private first class position known as Oberschütze, denoted by a silver pip worn on the sleeve of the SS uniform. The SS continued to use the candidate rank of Anwärter during World War II, but in a much less formal way especially in the Waffen-SS where soldiers were typically enlisted directly as an SS-Schütze, which was the military equivalent of the Allgemeine-SS rank of SS-Mann. In 1943, the SS created still a further entry rank with the position of Bewerber ("applicant") which was the lowest possible position in the SS; it had no rank insignia.

SS generals of the Waffen-SS were typically addressed by both their SS rank title and a corresponding general's rank associated with the Wehrmacht. All such general ranks were followed by the phrase der Waffen-SS to distinguish the SS General from their counterparts in other branches of the German military. Thus, a typical title would be Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS. For those who had held police rank prior to 1944, the SS general's title could become rather lengthy. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, for instance, was listed on the SS rolls in 1945 as Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS.

Final SS ranks 1934–1945[edit]

SS Rank SS insignia Translation SA equivalent Heer equivalent US equivalent British equivalent
Generalführer
Reichsführer-SS Reichsführer-SS Collar Rank.svg National leader Stabschef-SA Generalfeldmarschall General of the army Field marshal
Oberstgruppenführer (from 1942) SS-Oberstgruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Supreme group leader[h] (none) Generaloberst General General
Obergruppenführer SS-Obergruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Senior group leader Obergruppenführer General Lieutenant general Lieutenant-general
Gruppenführer SS-Gruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Group leader Gruppenführer Generalleutnant Major general Major-general
Brigadeführer SS-Brigadeführer Collar Rank.svg Brigade leader Brigadeführer Generalmajor Brigadier general (none)
Stabsführer
Oberführer SS-Oberführer Collar Rank.svg Senior leader Oberführer (none) (none) Brigadier
Standartenführer SS-Standartenführer Collar Rank.svg Regiment leader Standartenführer Oberst Colonel Colonel
Obersturmbannführer SS-Obersturmbannführer Collar Rank.svg Senior assault unit leader Obersturmbannführer Oberstleutnant Lieutenant colonel Lieutenant-colonel
Sturmbannführer SS-Sturmbannführer Collar Rank.svg Assault unit leader Sturmbannführer Major Major Major
Truppenführer
Hauptsturmführer SS-Hauptsturmführer Collar Rank.svg Chief assault leader Sturmhauptführer Hauptmann/Rittmeister Captain Captain
Obersturmführer SS-Obersturmführer Collar Rank.svg Senior assault leader Obersturmführer Oberleutnant First lieutenant Lieutenant
Untersturmführer SS-Untersturmführer Collar Rank.svg Junior assault leader Sturmführer Leutnant Second lieutenant Second lieutenant
Unterführer
Sturmscharführer (Waffen-SS) SS-Sturmscharführer Collar Rank.svg Assault squad leader Haupttruppführer Stabsfeldwebel Sergeant major Regimental sergeant major
Hauptscharführer SS-Hauptscharführer Collar Rank.svg Chief squad leader Obertruppführer Oberfeldwebel Master sergeant Sergeant major
Oberscharführer SS-Oberscharführer Collar Rank.svg Senior squad leader Truppführer Feldwebel Sergeant first class Staff sergeant
Scharführer SS-Scharführer Collar Rank.svg Squad leader Oberscharführer Unterfeldwebel Staff sergeant Sergeant
Unterscharführer SS-Unterscharführer Collar Rank.svg Junior squad leader Scharführer Unteroffizier Sergeant Corporal
Mannschaften
Rottenführer SS-Rottenführer Collar Rank.svg Section leader Rottenführer Obergefreiter Corporal Lance-corporal
Sturmmann SS-Sturmmann Collar Rank.svg Storm Trooper Sturmmann Gefreiter Private first class Private
Oberschütze (Waffen-SS, from 1942) SSpfcsldr.gif Senior rifleman (none) Obersoldat (etc.) (none) (none)
Mann
Schütze (Waffen-SS)
SS-Oberschütze Collar Rank.svg Trooper
Rifleman
Mann Soldat (etc.) Private Private
Anwärter - Candidate (none) (none) (none) (none)
Bewerber (from 1943) - Applicant (none) (none) (none) (none)

Police ranks and insignia[edit]

In 1936, the regular German police, previously agencies of the Länder or states, were nationalized and placed under Himmler, who was named Chef der Deutschen Polizei. The ordinary uniformed police were called the Ordnungspolizei ("order police"). Known as the Orpo, the Ordnungspolizei maintained a separate uniform, system of insignia and Orpo ranks. It was also possible for SS members to hold dual status in both the Orpo and the SS, and SS generals were referred to simultaneously by both rank titles. For instance, an Obergruppenführer in the SS, who was also a police general, would be referred to as Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei. In late 1939, Orpo personnel were formed into a combat division, recognizable by its use of police insignia; in 1942, this formation was absorbed into the Waffen-SS to become the 4. SS-Polizei-Panzergrenadier division.

SS foreign legions[edit]

A reproduction field blouse of the British Free Corps, considered a unit of the SS foreign legions; rank of Untersturmführer

As with the senior SS titles, volunteers of non-Germanic countries had the title "Waffen" prefixed to their rank. For instance, an Untersturmführer in the foreign legions would be referred to as Waffen-Untersturmführer whereas a regular SS member would be addressed as SS-Untersturmführer. This helped to indicate non-native volunteers, or to separate Germanic individuals in the divisions composed primarily of non-Germans.

Germanic-SS uniforms[edit]

Main article: Germanic-SS

Germanic-SS uniforms were modified versions of the original black Allgemeine-SS uniforms and were used strictly by the Germanic-SS in occupied countries. Unlike the foreign legions of the Waffen-SS, who wore the standard field gray (grey-green) SS uniform to conform with the rest of the Waffen-SS, the Germanic-SS was concerned solely with homeland duties and therefore were provided with surplus black uniforms upon which were displayed country specific insignia. This led to a wide variety of insignia and rank titles depending on the country of origin, although standardized throughout the entire Germanic-SS were the rank insignia pips and oak leaves used by the SS proper.

The Germanic-SS also had a unique military award, known as the Germanic Proficiency Runes, awarded for qualifying under certain physical tests, in much the same manner as the German Sports Badge and SA Sports Badge were awarded to the regular SS.

The Germanic-SS effectively ceased to exist in late 1944, after which time most of its members were folded into the foreign legions of the Waffen-SS. Due to most Germanic-SS members being considered traitors to their countries, Germanic-SS uniforms were often destroyed by their owners to prevent identification as a German collaborator.

Special SS uniforms[edit]

Formal dress uniform jacket of SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Werner Lorenz

SS officers had the option of purchasing formal-dress and mess-dress uniforms. The formal uniform was not unlike U.S. or UK dinner-dress uniforms, cut like a civilian tailcoat without the tails, and worn with white or black bowtie and waistcoat. This uniform also featured silk-faced lapels, SS shoulderboards and collar patches, a Totenkopf breast pin, and silver piping (broad silver-grey trouser stripes for general officers). Mess dress resembled a double-breasted tuxedo, with collar tabs and silver piping.

Officers could also wear a white cotton walking-out blouse, cut like the black service blouse, between April and September. Members were also permitted to wear a white SS visored service cap with the uniform.

An SS camouflage pattern

A waist-length white "waiter's jacket" with collar tabs was issued to those SS men who served as Hitler's domestic staff.

For use in hot weather climates like Southern Europe and North Africa, a tropical uniform of tan cotton was developed. This consisted of a Sahariana-style tunic with shoulder yokes based on Italian tropical uniforms, long-sleeved field shirt, and trousers. Headgear could be a pith helmet, sidecap, or an M40 tropical cap based on that of the Afrika Korps. Insignia was similar to that of standard SS-uniforms but in tan thread on black backing. Police units deployed to tropical climates wore an identical uniform with police insignia.

Waffen-SS troops were also pioneering among the German forces in the use of camouflage clothing and wore it extensively during the war. Waffen-SS used a variety of original spring and autumn designs in many patterns. Usually, camouflage was worn on overall parkas or helmet covers, and only late in the war were camouflaged tunics introduced.

SS titles[edit]

In addition to the rank titles used by the SS, the following titles were frequently interchanged when addressing SS personnel in certain positions of authority.

  • SS-Führer: Originally an early rank of the SS, the term SS-Führer designated commissioned officers of the SS, and means "SS leader".
  • SS-Unterführer: This term designated non-commissioned officers in the SS. An enlisted SS soldier, applying for non-commissioned officer status, was often known as an Unterführer-Anwärter.
  • SD-Leiter: This title was used by senior officers of the Sicherheitsdienst, typically those in command of a major SD office or regional headquarters.
  • SS- und Polizeiführer: Translated as "SS and police leader", these were some of the most powerful men in the SS, commanding all SS, Gestapo, Kripo and Orpo units in a given geographic region, often of the size of a major military district.
  • Kriminalrat: A police investigator's rank used by the Kriminalpolizei and Gestapo, many of whom were also SS members, to denote detectives in rank comparable to detective captains in a major police department in the United States. Artur Nebe, a career policeman, went by the title of Kriminalrat for most of the 1930s, only using an SS rank when engaged in non-Kripo activities. See Gestapo ranks.

SS membership numbers[edit]

Adolf Hitler, as the Führer of Germany, was by default the supreme commander of the SS and outranked Heinrich Himmler, who served as "Reich leader" of the entire SS.

After 1930 Hitler was the Oberster SA-Führer and thus supreme commander of the SA stormtroopers. Hitler's supreme SA rank, when the SS was still under the authority of the SA, was seen as a rank superior to that of Reichsführer-SS. Hitler also was considered SS member #1, Emil Maurice (considered the founder of the SS) was member #2, while Himmler was SS member #168. Based on the seniority system of SS membership number, this made Hitler senior in the SS to all other members even if not by rank.

After the Night of the Long Knives, when the SS became independent from the SA, Hitler was listed on SS officer rolls as SS member #1 and as the Oberste Führer der Schutzstaffel (Supreme Commander of the SS). Thus, Hitler technically held a rank superior to Himmler (Reich Leader of the SS), but there is no photographic record of Hitler wearing an SS uniform, and there was no special SS insignia for Hitler above that worn by Himmler.[11] From 1937 to 1945, Hitler also held the rank of "Honorary Corporal" in the Italian Blackshirts, which was a senior General's rank.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ This same tradition in its 'cavalry' aspect would also manifest itself in the black uniforms and totenkopf badges of the army's Panzer troops.
  2. ^ The regulation boot was by now the standard army-style Marschstiefel or jackboot, a calf-high pebbled-leather pull-on boot with hobnailed leather soles. The standard size was a Euro: 41–42 or a US: 9.5
  3. ^ Ironically, the iconic black uniform was brought out during a short-lived legal prohibition on political party uniforms
  4. ^ In contrast to the army, the black SS uniform included riding boots and breeches for enlisted men as well as officers.
  5. ^ In practice, earth-gray was little if any different from army field-gray (feldgrau); however, Himmler resented the army and preferred a distinct SS term
  6. ^ However, many Waffen-SS officers had their tunics made with green collars.
  7. ^ Except that SD/SiPo shoulderboards used black where the Orpo used dark brown
  8. ^ This rank has been alternatively translated as "colonel group leader".[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Himmler, Heinrich (1936), Die Schutzstaffel als antibolschewistiche Kampf-organisation, p. 29  as quoted in The Third Reich: A New History, 2001, p. 192 .
  2. ^ Givhan, Robin (1997-08-15). "Clothier Made Nazi Uniforms". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  3. ^ Toland, John (1976), Adolf Hitler, New York: Doubleday & Co, ISBN 0-385-03724-4 .
  4. ^ Lumsden 2002, p. 53.
  5. ^ Lumsden 2002, p. 49.
  6. ^ Cook & Bender 1994, pp. 288, 292.
  7. ^ Cook & Bender 1994, p. 292.
  8. ^ Cook & Bender 1994, p. 15.
  9. ^ Lumsden 2002, p. 56.
  10. ^ Yerger, Mark (1997), Allgemeine-SS, Atglen, PA: Schiffer .
  11. ^ Schutzstaffel der NSDAP, SS Officers List, Berlin (1942), Reprinted by Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA (2000)

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]