In 1930, Gruppenführer became an SS rank and was originally bestowed upon those officers who commanded SS-Gruppen and also upon senior officers of the SS command staff. In 1932, the SS was reorganized and the SS-Gruppen were reformed into SS-Abschnitte. A Gruppenführer commanded an SS-Abschnitt while a new rank, that of Obergruppenführer, oversaw the SS-Oberabschnitte which were the largest SS units in Germany.
Initially in the SA, NSKK, and SS, the rank of Gruppenführer was considered equivalent to a full general, but became regarded as equivalent to Generalleutnant after 1934. During the Second World War, when the Waffen-SS began using the rank, an SS-Gruppenführer was considered equal to a Generalleutnant in the Wehrmacht and was referred to as SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS. Waffen-SS Gruppenführer also displayed the shoulder boards of a Wehrmacht Generalleutnant.
The insignia for SS-Gruppenführer consisted of three oak leaves centred on both collars of an SS uniform. From 1930 to 1942, the SS insignia was the same as the SA badge of rank; however the SS modified the Gruppenführer insignia slightly to include a collar pip (stern, a star), upon the creation of the rank SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer in April 1942.
A Gruppenführer was typically in charge of a number of SA regiments (known as Standarten) which were formed into SA-Gruppen. Upon its original conception, Gruppenführer was considered equivalent to a full general. This later changed to where the rank was considered to be equal to a Generalleutnant in the Heer (army) and a major general in other western countries.
The rank of Gruppenführer was also used in several other Nazi paramilitary groups, among them the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK) and the National Socialist Flyers Corps (NSFK). In 1944, the rank of Gruppenführer was adopted by the Volkssturm as a low level non-commissioned officer position in charge of squad sized formations (Gruppe) of Volkssturm soldiers.
In the German fire fighting corps, the term Gruppenführer refers to the commander of a group of eight fire fighters. A Gruppe is the smallest tactical unit in the German fire fighting corps. Just as in military use, the term does not refer to a rank but describes a function. The term is still in use today.
Gruppe was also used in a variety on other ways. In the Luftwaffe as a grouping of Staffeln (squadrons) either independent of as the sub-division of a Geschwader. It was also used for ad hoc army formations.
- Kampfgruppe—a combat group made up for a particular purpose or in an emergency—size varied.
- Regimentsgruppe, Divisionsgruppe, Korpsgruppe—ad hoc formations of the size indicated by the title.
- Panzergruppe—one or more Armeekorps subordinate to an infantry army; later became independent as Panzerarmee
- Armeegruppe—occasionally an army-sized combat group usually much like a Korpsgruppe and also a temporary grouping of two armies usually one German and one allied army. It is not to be confused with Heeresgruppe, which was the command of several armies (army group).
- Insignia of rank of SS-Gruppenführer and Lieutenant-general of the Waffen-SS
Gorget patches after April 1942
|SS rank and SA rank
- Fritz Kellerman, the head of SS and police in Nazi-occupied Britain, in Len Deighton's alternative history novel SS-GB.
- Flaherty, T. H. (2004) . The Third Reich: The SS. Time-Life Books, Inc. ISBN 1 84447 073 3.
- McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945. Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-906626-49-5.
- McNab (II), Chris (2009). The Third Reich. Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-906626-51-8.
- Yerger, Mark C. (1997). Allgemeine-SS: The Commands, Units and Leaders of the General SS. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7643-0145-4.