Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts

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Waffen SS Freiwilligen
Recruitment posters of the Waffen-SS.gif
Waffen-SS recruitment and propaganda posters from across Europe
Active 1940–45
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Branch Schutzstaffel
Size 39 divisions
Part of SS Regiment Nordland,
SS Regiment Westland [1]

The Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts during World War II were members of the Waffen-SS who have been recruited or conscripted mainly from among the nationals of Nazi-occupied Europe. The recruitment began in April 1940 with the creation of two regiments: the Waffen SS Regiment Nordland (for Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish volunteers), and the Waffen SS Regiment Westland (for Dutch, and Flemish volunteers). As the Waffen SS Freiwilligen grew in numbers, the volunteers were grouped into Legions (with the size of battalion or brigade); their members included the so-called Germanic non-Germans as well as ethnic German officers originating from the occupied territories (i.e. the Volksdeutsche). Following Operation Barbarossa – as the war on the Eastern front raged – the Freiwilligen made up one half of the entire Waffen-SS fighting force.[1][2] Notably, by February 1942 the recruitment to the Waffen-SS in south-east Europe turned into compulsory conscription for all German minorities of military age by the "iron law of their ethnicity".[3]

Frantic recruiting of all available manpower including SS takeover of complete Army, Navy, and Air Force units was introduced in 1943 in order to rebuild understrength regiments depleted by high casualty rates.[4] A system of nomenclature developed to formally distinguish personnel based on their place of origin. The formations with non-German volunteers of Germanic background were officially named Freiwilligen (Scandinavians, Dutch, the Flemish, Walloons, and the Frenchmen), while the units with preponderance of the so-called non-German Volksdeutsche from satellite countries – organized into independent legions – had a designation Waffen attached to their names for the ease of formal identification.[4] They were forbidden to display the SS-runes reserved for the original Reichsdeutsche.[5] Despite manpower shortages, Waffen-SS remained faithful to the racist ideology of the Third Reich, barring undesirable ethno-racial and religious minorities from service.[6][7][8]

History of the Waffen-SS[edit]

The Waffen-SS (Armed SS) was created as the militarized wing of the Schutzstaffel (SS; "Protective Squadron") of the Nazi Party after the Night of the Long Knives.[9] When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, his paramilitary organizations included the Sturmabteilung (SA; "Storm Detachment") and the SS.[10] Together, these two groups numbered more than three million men, a fact which deeply troubled the traditional officer corps of the German Army.[11][10] In 1933, a group of 120 SS men were chosen to form the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.[12] A year later, Hitler approved the formation of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), which together with the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, made up the early elements of what would became the Waffen-SS.[12] It was Hitler's wish that unit should never be integrated into the army nor the state police, but remain an independent force of military-trained men at the disposal of the Führer in times of both war and peace.[13][14] It was commanded by Heinrich Himmler in his capacity as Reichsführer-SS.[15]

Himmler initially in 1934 set stringent requirements for Waffen-SS recruits. They were to be German nationals who could prove their Aryan ancestry back to 1800, unmarried, and without a criminal record. Recruits had to be between the ages of 17 and 23, at least 1.74 metres (5 ft 9 in) tall (1.78 metres (5 ft 10 in) for the Leibstandarte). Recruits were required to have perfect teeth and eyesight and provide a medical certificate.[16] By 1938 the height restrictions were relaxed, up to six dental fillings were permitted, and eyeglasses for astigmatism and mild vision correction were allowed.[17] Once World War II in Europe commenced, the physical requirements were no longer strictly enforced, and essentially any recruit who could pass a basic medical exam was considered for Waffen-SS service.[17] Following the campaign in the West in 1940, Hitler authorized the enlistment of "people perceived to be of related stock", as Himmler put it, to expand the ranks.[18] A number of Danes, Dutch, Norwegians, Swedes and Finns volunteered to fight in the Waffen-SS under the command of German officers.[19][20] Non-Germanic units were not considered to be part of the SS directly, which still maintained its strict racial criteria, but rather were considered to be foreign nationals serving under the command of the SS.[21]

After Germany turned East and attacked the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, further volunteers from France, Spain, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and the Balkans signed up to fight for the Nazi cause. In 1942, further units of non-Germanic recruits were formed.[20] Eventually units consisting of Russians, Indians, Arabs and even one with a few Britons were created. The Waffen-SS grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions during World War II.[22] By 1944, after the breaking of the Siege of Leningrad, the German military began conscripting Estonian and Latvian people in an effort to replenish their losses.[23][24] By 1945, the Waffen-SS had developed into a military force with volunteers and conscripts of multiple ethnicities which were mainly from occupied Europe.[25] By that time, however, the Waffen-SS also became a shadow of its former self; having insufficient numerical strength of different divisions, harried by problems, and overwhelmed by poor-quality draftees.[26] Estimates for the maximum growth of the Waffen-SS number over 800,000 including members of the Hitler Youth who were pressured to volunteer for service.[4] After the war, the unit was declared a criminal organization for its major involvement in war crimes and for being an "integral part" of the SS.[27][28] Conscripts units, however, were not deemed to be criminal as these individuals had no choice in becoming members.[24][29]

Foreign volunteers and conscripts by place of origin[edit]


British Commonwealth[edit]

Britisches Freikorps (British Free Corps of the Waffen-SS), 1944: 54 men [35][36]


Freiwilligen Legion Flandern (July 1941) [37]



Freiwilligen Legion Danemark (July 1941) [37]








Italienische Freiwilligen Legion (1943): 6,000 men [51]



SS Freiwilligen Legion Niederlande (1941): 50,000 to 55,000 men [1][47]


SS Freiwilligen Legion Norwegen (1941): 1,218 men [53][54]





Soviet Union[edit]


  • Armenia: 2,000 to 4,000 in the[citation needed]
    • Kaukasische Waffen-Verband der SS
      • Stab Kaukasischer Waffen-Verband der SS
      • Stab Waffen-Gruppe Armenien
      • Stab Waffen-Gruppe Nordkaukasus
      • Stab Waffen-Gruppe Georgien
      • Stab Waffen-Gruppe Aserbeidschan



North Caucasus[edit]



United States[edit]


Croatia and Bosnia[edit]



Post war trials[edit]

Former Baltic Waffen SS conscripts, wearing black uniforms with blue helmets and white belts, guarding Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess and other top Nazis during the Nuremberg Trials.

After the German Instrument of Surrender, many volunteers were tried and imprisoned by their countries. In several cases, volunteers were executed. Henri Joseph Fenet, one of the last recipients of the Knight's Cross was sentenced to 20 years of forced labour and released from prison in 1959.[63] Some were far less lucky and were shot upon capture by the French authorities. General Leclerc was famously presented with a defiant group of 11 or 12 captured 33rd SS Charlemagne men. The Free French General immediately asked them why they wore a German uniform, to which one of them replied by asking the General why he wore an American one; the Free French wore modified US Army uniforms. The group of French Waffen-SS men was then promptly executed without any form of military tribunal procedure.[64]

Walloon leader Leon Degrelle escaped to Spain, where, despite being sentenced to death in absentia by the Belgian authorities, he lived in exile until his death in 1994.[65] Some 146 Baltic soldiers from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who fought against Soviets and escaped to Sweden were extradited to Soviet Union in 1946.[66]

The men of the XV SS Cossack Corps found themselves in Austria at the end of the war and surrendered to British troops. Even though they were given assurances that they would not be turned over to the Soviets, they nevertheless were forcibly removed from the compound and transferred to the USSR. This event became known as the Betrayal of the Cossacks. Most of the Cossacks were executed for treason.[67][68]

After the war members of Baltic Waffen-SS Units were considered separate and distinct in purpose, ideology and activities from the German SS by the Western Allies. Subsequently in the spring of 1946, out of the ranks of Baltic conscripts who had surrendered to the Western allies in the previous year, a total of nine companies were formed with a mission to guard the external perimeter of the Nuremberg International Tribunal courthouse and the various depots and residences of US officers and prosecutors connected with the trial. The men were also entrusted with guarding the accused Nazi war criminals held in prison during the trial up until the day of execution.[69][70]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Nigel Askey. Operation Barbarossa: the Complete Organisational and Statistical Analysis. p. 568. ISBN 1304453294. 
  2. ^ Goldsworthy 2010, p. 245: It should be noted that towards the end of the war many of the Waffen-SS divisions were divisions in name only and their actual strength was far below the theoretical strength of the typical division. The nationality of the units represents only the main country of origin of men in that unit. In most cases the officers and NCOs of the unit were of German extraction.
  3. ^ Longerich 2012, pp. 611-612.
  4. ^ a b c W.V. Madej (2002) [1981]. German Army Order of Battle 1939 - 1945. Vol. 1. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Game Marketing. pp. 151, 155–156. ISBN 0941052028. 
  5. ^ Gordon Williamson (2012). The Waffen-SS. Vol. 3: 11. to 23. Divisions. Osprey Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 1780965796. 
  6. ^ W. Borodziej, Ruch oporu w Polsce w świetle tajnych akt niemieckich, Część IX, Kierunki 1985, nr 16.
  7. ^ Eugeniusz Cezary Król, Polska i Polacy w propagandzie narodowego socjalizmu w Niemczech 1919-1945, Instytut Studiów Politycznych Polskiej Akademii Nauk, 2006, page 452.
  8. ^ Włodzimierz Borodziej, Terror i polityka: policja niemiecka a polski ruch oporu w GG 1939-1944 Instytut Wydawniczy Pax, 1985, page 86.
  9. ^ Bender & Taylor 1971, p. 23.
  10. ^ a b Kershaw 2008, pp. 306-313.
  11. ^ The Waffen-SS 2015.
  12. ^ a b Flaherty 2004, p. 144.
  13. ^ Reitlinger 1989, p. 84.
  14. ^ McNab 2009, pp. 56-66.
  15. ^ Lumsden 2002, p. 14.
  16. ^ Weale 2010, pp. 201–204.
  17. ^ a b Weale 2010, p. 204.
  18. ^ Stein 1984, pp. 150, 153.
  19. ^ Koehl 2004, pp. 213–214.
  20. ^ a b Longerich 2012, pp. 500, 674.
  21. ^ Longerich 2012, p. 769.
  22. ^ McNab 2009, pp. 56, 57, 66.
  23. ^ Robert Sturdevant (10 February 1944). "Strange Guerilla Army Hampers Nazi Defence of Baltic". Times Daily (Florence, Alabama). 
  24. ^ a b Laar, Mart (2005). "Battles in Estonia in 1944". Estonia in World War II. Tallinn: Grenader. pp. 32–59. 
  25. ^ McNab 2009, p. 101.
  26. ^ McNab 2013, p. 352.
  27. ^ Flaherty 2004, pp. 155, 156.
  28. ^ Stein 1984, p. 251.
  29. ^ Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, Volume 22, September 1946
  30. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 77.
  31. ^ Judah 2002, p. 28.
  32. ^ a b Nafziger 1992.
  33. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 496.
  34. ^ Lepre 1997, pp. 321, 329.
  35. ^ Thurlow 1998, p. 168.
  36. ^ Weale, Adrian (2014). Renegades. Random House. Appendix 5: British Members of the British Free Corps and their Aliases (Kindle Locations 3757-3758). Some only belonged to this unit for a few days. 
  37. ^ a b John Keegan (1970). Waffen SS: the asphalt soldiers. ISBN 0345019865. Freiwilligen Legion Niederlande; Freiwilligen Legion Danemark; Freiwilligen Legion Norwegen, and Freiwilligen Legion Flandern were all set up in July 1941. 
  38. ^ a b Mitcham 2007, p. 144.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g The Battle for Germany 2015.
  40. ^ Kurowski 2014, p. Chapter X.
  41. ^ Bruyne & Rikmenspoel 2004, p. 75.
  42. ^ Merriam 1999, p. 8.
  43. ^ Abbott 2004, p. 41.
  44. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mitcham 2007, p. 155.
  45. ^ Thomas, Nigel (2012). Germany's Eastern Front Allies (2): Baltic Forces. Osprey Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 9781780967349. 
  46. ^ The battalion was praised by many Waffen-SS commanders, even Heinrich Himmler, for its combat performance. Himmler said "Where a Finnish SS-man stood, the enemy was always defeated."[attribution needed] Neither the unit nor any of its members were ever accused of any "war crimes".
  47. ^ a b Source: Tim Ripley, The Waffen-SS At War: Hitler's Praetorians 1925–1945, 2004, ISBN 978-0760320686
  48. ^ The 8th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade France was led by a former Foreign Legionnaire, Obersturmbannführer Paul-Marie Gamory-Dubourdeau. The 1st battalion of about 1,000 men was attached to SS Division Horst Wessel and sent to Galicia to fight the Soviet advance. In fierce fighting the battalion suffered heavy casualties.[attribution needed]
  49. ^ 1 motorised infantry regiment (3 regiments from October 1944, but with French, Belgians and Spanish volunteers)
  50. ^ In the later stages of World War II Lainé decided to separate from Bagadou Stourm and integrate with the SS in the face of the assassination of several leading figures of the Breton cultural movement. One of those assassinated was priest and Breton language defender Abbé Jean-Marie Perrot, murdered by the communist terrorists of the French Resistance. The militia had originally been named Bezen Kadoudal, after the anti-Jacobin Breton rebel Georges Cadoudal. The 1943 assassination of the priest prompted Lainé to change the organization's name in honor of Perrot during December of that year. It had already been envisaged by German strategists that in the event of Allied invasion the Breton nationalists would form a rearguard, and that further nationalist troops could be parachuted into Brittany. [1] However, the rapid American advance from Normandy into Brittany forced the group to retreat along with the German army. In Tübingen many members were provided with false papers by Leo Weisgerber. [2] Following the war many of the organization's members, including Lainé, Heusaff and the nationalist poet Fant Rozec fled to Ireland.[attribution needed]
  51. ^ Philip S. Jowett. The Italian Army 1940-1945 (3): Italy, 1943-45. p. 18. ISBN 1855328666. 
  52. ^ Kasekamp, Andres (2010). A History of the Baltic States. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 155. ISBN 9780230364516. 
  53. ^ Roger H. Hunt. Frontfighters: The Norwegian Volunteer Legion of the Waffen-SS, 1941-1943. p. 19. 
  54. ^ Robert Forczyk. Leningrad 1941-44: The Epic Siege. p. 20. ISBN 1846034418. 
  55. ^ Mitcham 2007, p. 148.
  56. ^ Mitcham 2007, p. 149.
  57. ^ PAYNE, Stanley (2008): "Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany, and World War II", page 148. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300122824.
  58. ^ The number of Swedes who served in the SS is disputed, with estimates ranging from 180 to roughly 500. Gyllenhaal and Westberg in Swedes at War put the number of Swedes who fought for Germany at 200, the majority in the Waffen-SS.[attribution needed]
  59. ^ The thousands of Swiss, who fought for Germany, mainly entlisted in the Wehrmacht instead of the Waffen-SS. The numbers for members of the Waffen-SS range between 300 and 2,000 depending on the source.
  60. ^ At least 30,000 Georgians served in the German armed forces during World War II. The Georgians served in thirteen field battalions of up to 800 men, each made up of five companies. Georgians were also found in the Wehrmacht's North Caucasian Legion and in other Caucasian ethnic legions. The Georgian military formations were commanded by Shalva Maglakelidze, Michel-Fridon Zulukidze, Col. Solomon Nicholas Zaldastani and other officers formerly of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918–21).
  61. ^ SS-Waffengruppe "Georgien" was formed on December 11, 1944 and commanded by Waffen-Standartenfuhrer der SS Michail Pridon Tsulukidze.
  62. ^ Source: Heimdal "Dictionnaire historique de la Waffen SS", 1998.
  63. ^ "Ritterkreuzträger Henri Joseph Fenet" (in German). Retrieved 10 November 2008. 
  64. ^ This incident took place May 8, 1945, at Bad Reichenhall in Bavaria
  65. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. "Leon Degrelle". Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  66. ^ "Virtual Museum OCCUPATION OF LATVIA". 
  67. ^ Chereshneff, Colonel W.V. (1952), The History of Cossacks, Rodina Society Archives 
  68. ^ Roberts, Andrew (June 4, 2005), BLOOD ON OUR HANDS;, The Daily Mail 
  69. ^ Mart Laar, Eesti Leegion sonas ja pildis, Grenader Grupp, 2008, ISBN 978-9949-422-61-6
  70. ^ "Esprits de corps - Nuremberg Tribunal Guard Co. 4221 marks 56th anniversary". Eesti Elu. 


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