The General SS was the administrative and non-combat part of the SS.
Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler leads an Allgemeine-SS ceremony on the anniversary of the death of Heinrich I at Quedlinburg, July 1938
|Dissolved||May 8, 1945|
|Headquarters||SS-Hauptamt, Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, Berlin
The Allgemeine SS ("General SS") was the most numerous branch of the Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany. It was managed by the SS-Hauptamt (English: SS Main Offices). The Allgemeine SS was officially established in the autumn of 1934 to distinguish its members from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (which later became the Waffen-SS) and the SS-Totenkopfverbände (concentration camp guards).
Starting in 1939, foreign units of the Allgemeine SS were raised in occupied countries. They were later consolidated into the Leitstelle der germanischen SS (English: Directing Center of the Germanic SS) from 1940.
The SS was created on April 4, 1925 and subordinated to the SA on November 1, 1926. It was thus a subunit of the SA and the NSDAP. It was considered to be an elite organization by both party members and the general population.
The main task of the SS was the personal protection of the Führer of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler. As early as the winter of 1925 the SS consisted of approximately 1,000 members, but of this number there were barely 200 active members. Heinrich Himmler tried to separate the SS from the SA, and SA leaders generally had no authority over SS personnel from 1927 onwards. Himmler began to systematically develop and expand the SS with stricter requirements for members as well as a general purge of SS members who were identified as drunkards, criminals, or otherwise undesirable for service in the SS.
By December 1929, the number of active SS members had grown to 1,000. As the SS grew even further, Himmler on 29 January 1930 announced to SA leader Ernst Röhm, that:
The Schutzstaffel is growing, and will probably number 2,000 by the end of this quarter. From that point on the SS would be considered, therefore, de facto independent.
By December of that same year, the SS had a membership of 2,727.
Himmler now looked to another source for recruits to the SS: the SA. Many former members of Röhm's Frontbann joined the SS. In 1926 it had been specified that the SS had to subordinate itself absolutely to the SA, and with that any arbitrary action of the SS was prevented. With local recruitment, SS men owed their loyalty to the respective SA leader. However, by 1929, many SA Unterführers had already gone over to Himmler's SS. Hitler assisted Himmler in his first great victory over the SA, by decreeing on November 7, 1930: "The task of the SS is first the practice of the police service within the party. No SA leader is entitled to give instructions to the SS!"
This order split the two organizations from each other, and confirmed thereby the de jure independence of the SS from the SA.
Formation and service
After the Machtergreifung (seizure of power) by the NSDAP, the SS began to expand into a massive organization. By March 1933 it included over 52,000 registered members. By December 1933 the SS had increased to over 204,000 members and Himmler ordered a temporary freeze on recruitment. Himmler ordered that "no one else is taken on, from the end of 1933 to the end of 1935, who is not suited for the SS."
On 20 April 1934, Göring and Himmler agreed to put aside their differences (largely because of mutual hatred of the SA). Göring transferred control of the Gestapo to Himmler, who was also named chief of all German police forces outside Prussia; two days later Himmler named Reinhard Heydrich the head of the Gestapo. The SS was further cemented when both it and the Gestapo participated in the destruction of the SA during the Night of the Long Knives from 30 June to 2 July 1934. They either killed or arrested every major SA leader – above all Ernst Röhm. Himmler was later named the chief of all German police in June, 1936. Therein, the Gestapo was incorporated into the SiPo with the Kripo (Criminal Police). Heydrich was made head of the SiPo and continued as chief of the SD.
In August 1934, Himmler received permission from Hitler to form a new organisation from the SS Sonderkommandos and the Politischen Bereitschaften, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT). This was a standing armed military force, which in war was to be subordinate to the Wehrmacht ("Armed Forces"), but remained under Himmler's control in times of peace and under Hitler's personal control regardless. According to this restructure, the SS now housed three different subordinate commands:
Himmler further conducted additional purges of the SS to exclude those deemed to be opportunists, alcoholics, homosexuals, or of uncertain racial status. This "house cleaning" removed some 60,000 SS members by December 1935.
By 1938, the Allgemeine SS numbered 485,000 members with 13,867 active SS-officers. In May 1939, the Totenkopfverbände was declared to be a part of the Allgemeine-SS, adding 50,000 new members to the organization (the Totenkopfverbände would later be absorbed by the Waffen-SS in 1942).
Upon the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the SS had solidified into its final form, mainly two large contingents, these being the Allgemeine-SS and Waffen-SS. With Himmler as Chief of the German Police, the SS also controlled the Ordnungspolizei, which over the course of World War II would be increasingly overshadowed and infiltrated by the SS.
Hierarchy and structure
The term Allgemeine-SS referred to the "General-SS", meaning those units of the SS considered "main, regular, or standard". By 1938, the Allgemeine-SS was administratively divided into these main sections:
- Full-time officers and members of the main SS departments, including the RSHA
- Part-time volunteer members of SS regional units
- SS security forces, e.g., the Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst (SD)
- Concentration Camp staffs of the Totenkopfverbände
- Reserve, honorary or otherwise inactive SS members
After World War II began in 1939, the lines between the Allgemeine-SS and the Waffen-SS became increasingly blurred, due largely to the Allgemeine-SS headquarters offices having administrative and supply command over the Waffen-SS. By 1940, all of the Allgemeine-SS had been issued grey war-time uniforms and by 1941 the black SS uniform had been taken out of circulation for the most part.
Full time SS personnel
Approximately one third of the Allgemeine-SS were considered "full time" meaning that they received a salary as government employees, were employed full-time in an SS office, and performed SS duties as their primary occupation. The vast majority of such full-time SS personnel were assigned to the main SS offices, considered part of the Allgemeine-SS, and divided as follows:
- SS-Hauptamt (SS-HA):
- SS-Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab RFSS (HaPerStab)
- SS Personalhauptamt (SS PHA)
- SS Führungshauptamt (SS FHA)
- Hauptamt SS-Gericht (HA SS-Gericht)
- SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA)
- SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (RuSHA)
- Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VOMI)
- Reichskommissar für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums (RKF or RKFDV)
- SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS-WVHA)
Main office commanders and staff were exempt from military conscription. Although many, such as Heydrich, served as reservists in the regular German military. Main office members did join the Waffen-SS, where they could accept a lower rank and serve in active combat or be listed as inactive reservists. By 1944, with Germany's looming defeat, the draft exemption for the Allgemeine-SS main offices was lifted and many junior members were ordered into combat with senior members assuming duties as Waffen-SS generals.
SS regional units
The core of the Allgemeine-SS were part-time mustering formations spread throughout Germany. Members in these regional units would typically meet once a week in uniform, as well as participate in various Nazi Party functions. Activities including drill and ideological instruction, marching in parades, and providing security at various Nazi party rallies.
Regional SS units were organized into commands known as SS-Oberabschnitt (region), Abschnitt (district), and Standarten (regiment). Before 1934, SS personnel received no pay and their work was completely voluntarily. After 1933, the Oberabschnitt commanders and their staff became regarded as "full time" but the rank and file of the Allgemeine-SS were still part-time only.
Regular Allgemeine-SS personnel were also not exempt from conscription and many were called up to serve in the Wehrmacht. By 1942, most of the part time Allgemeine-SS had either joined the Waffen-SS or had been conscripted into the regular German military. The senior levels of the Abschnitte and Oberabschnitte were considered draft exempt, but most of these SS leaders and staff were themselves merged into the offices of the SS and Police Leaders which were considered as quasi-military commands with Waffen-SS authority, although on paper still part of the Allgemeine-SS. Draft exemption for these senior leadership staffs was itself lifted in 1944, and most of the remaining Allgemeine-SS personnel were assigned to the Waffen-SS as reservists.
From 1936, the state security police forces of the Gestapo and Kripo (Criminal Police) were consolidated and placed under the central command of Reinhard Heydrich, already chief of the party Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and named Sicherheitspolizei. Later from 27 September 1939 forward, they were all folded into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) which was placed under Heydrich's control. The ordinary uniformed German police, known as the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) were also under SS control after 1936 but never incorporated into the Allgemeine-SS, although many police members were also dual SS members.
The death squad units of the Einsatzgruppen were considered part of the Allgemeine-SS and under the operational control of the RSHA. The units were themselves a mixture of civilian (SS auxiliary), police, and SS personnel, although all Einsatzgruppen personnel wore grey Waffen-SS type uniforms in the performance of their duties.
During World War II, security force personnel were seen as performing "essential duties" to the Reich and thus were exempt from conscription into military service. Many such personnel, however, typically joined the Waffen-SS or served in the Wehrmacht military reserve. SS-Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, for instance, was an Untersturmführer in the Waffen-SS Reserve while Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler was a Reserve Feldwebel (Sergeant) in the German Army.
As Germany began losing World War II, the draft exemption for security forces was slowly lifted, although due to the nature of the Nazi regime, there was a constant need for security personnel up until the very end of the Third Reich. For this reason, many Gestapo, SD, and Kripo members who served as reservists never saw combat until the very last days of the war, if at all.
Concentration camp personnel
All Concentration Camp staffs were originally part of the Allgemeine-SS under the office of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (Inspektion der Konzentrationslager or IKL). First headed by Theodor Eicke, the Concentration Camps were formed into the Totenkopfverbände after 1934, but then increasingly became divided into the camp service proper and the military Totenkopf formation controlled by the SS-Verfungstruppe (the early Waffen-SS).
After 1942, the entire camp service was placed under the authority of the Waffen-SS for a variety of administrative and logistical reasons. The ultimate command authority for the camp system during World War II was the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WHVA).
By late 1940 the Allgemeine-SS also controlled the Germanische SS, which were collaborationist organizations modeled after the Allgemeine-SS in several Western European countries.
The Allgemeine-SS also consisted of a female volunteer corps (known as the SS-Helferinnen) and, in the last days of World War II, had authority over the so-called "Auxiliary-SS" which were non-SS personnel conscripted in the SS to serve as concentration camp personnel in the last months of World War II.
The ranks of the Allgemeine SS and the Waffen-SS were based upon those of the SA and used the same titles. However, there was a distinctly separate hierarchical subdivisions of the larger Waffen-SS from its Allgemeine counterpart and an SS member could in fact hold two separate SS ranks. For instance, a Brigadeführer ("Brigadier General") of the Allgemeine SS might only be ranked as a Rottenführer ("Lance Corporal") in the Waffen-SS. If this same SS member were an architectural engineer, then the SS-HA would issue a third rank of Sonderführer ("Lead Technical Specialist").
SS members could also hold reserve commissions in the regular military as well as a Nazi Party political rank. Add to this that many senior SS members were also employees of the Reich government in capacities as ministers, deputies, etc., and an SS member could in the end have as many as five ranks in various organizations as well as a number of additional titles. Per one SS historian:
Multiple and overlapping commands were very commonplace... A man could hold one post while temporarily assigned to another and hold rank in the Allgemeine-SS, Waffen-SS and Polizei simultaneously... I'm thoroughly convinced even Berlin was not 100% sure who was in certain positions at exact points in time, confirmed by individual BDC records. - Mark Yerger, Allgemeine-SS 
In 1944, nearly every SS general was granted equivalent Waffen-SS rank, without regard to previous military service. This was mainly ordered so to give SS-generals authority over military units and POW camps. Also, in the event of capture by the Allies, SS-Generals would be given status as military prisoners rather than captured police officials. This distinction was observed by British and American forces in the West, but hardly ever even noticed by the Soviet Red Army, in particular in situations where SS and Police Leaders or other SS units involved in genocide, would fall into Soviet hands. Friedrich Jecklen, who was granted Waffen-SS rank in 1944, was captured by the Russians and held as a criminal with no status given to his military rank.
In 1945, the stated membership number of SS was over 840,000 members. Of these, 48,500 were members of the Allgemeine SS. Much of the remainder were 18,000 officers, 52,000 NCOs, and 600,000 enlisted members of the Waffen-SS and 130,000 police.
Order of battle
The mustering formations of part-time SS members, considered before 1938 to be the core of the Allgemeine-SS, were maintained in their own order of battle, beginning with regiment sized Standarten units and extending upwards to division strength Oberabschnitte commands. Within the Allgemeine-SS Standarten there were in turn subordinate battalions of Sturmbann themselves divided into company Sturme.
For most rank and file members of the Allgemeine-SS, the Sturm level was the highest which the ordinary SS member would typically associate with. The Sturm itself was further divided into platoon sized Truppen (sometimes known as Zug) which were in turn divided into squad sized Scharen. For larger Allgemeine-SS commands, the Scharen would be further dividied into Rotte which were the Allgemeine-SS equivalent of a fire team.
It was the ultimate aim of Heinrich Himmler to merge the Allgemeine-SS units into the police and security forces of the Third Reich, thus creating formations known as Staatsschutzkorps which would serve to enforce Nazi Doctrine as well as provide homeland police services. In the concept of the Lebensraum, Himmler had even grander visions with plans to build twenty eight SS cities in the conquered lands of Russia. These lands would be overseen by SS-Lords, militarily guarded by the Waffen-SS, and worked and lived on by "Peasant warriors" of the Allgemeine-SS. As Germany was defeated in World War II, Himmler's dream were never realized although the construction of the Wewelsburg SS fortress was seen as a possible first step.
- Höhne, Heinz Der Orden ..., pg 56-57: Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, P. to 56-57 (The book has also been translated into English with the title The Order of the Death's Head: The Story of Hitler's SS )
- Williams, Max. Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volume 1. 2001, p 61.
- Williams, Max. Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volume 1, p 77.
- Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine - SS, p 83.
- equivalent to a Generalmajor
- Yerger, p. 10. Yerger attempted to list all HSSPF, SSPF, Oberabschnitt, Abschnitt, and Standarten of the SS, plus maps, photos, and mini-biographies. The BDC (the Berlin Document Center) a US managed collection of captured Nazi documents in Berlin, was one of his sources. The collection is now part of the German Bundesarchiv.
- Heinz Hoehne: Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Weltbild-Verlag 1992, ISBN 3-89350-549-0
- Heinz Hoehne: The Order of the Death's Head, Penguin 2001, ISBN 0-14-139012-3.
- Hilde Kammer/Elisabeth Bartsch: Jugendlexikon Nationalsozialismus. Begriffe aus der Zeit der Gewaltherrschaft 1933-1945 ISBN 3-499-16288-1
- Robin Lumsden: A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine - SS, Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. 2002, ISBN 0-7110-2905-9
- Robin Lumsden: The Allgemeine-SS, Vol. 266, ISBN 1-85532-358-3
- Andrew Mollo: A Pictorial History of the SS, 1923-1945, ISBN 0-7128-2174-0
- Felix Steiner: Die Armee der Geächteten, ISBN 3-920722-10-8
- Max Williams: Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volume 1, Ulric Publishing 2001, ISBN 0-9537577-5-7
- Gordon Williamson: Die Waffen-SS 1933-1945. Ein Handbuch, ISBN 3-85492-706-1
- Gordon Williamson: Die SS - Hitlers Instrument der Macht. Die Geschichte der SS von der Schutzstaffel bis zur Waffen-SS, ISBN 3-7043-6037-6
- Mark C. Yerger: Allgemeine-SS: The Commands, Units and Leaders of the General SS, Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 1997, ISBN 0-7643-0145-4