Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts

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Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts
Finnish SS volunteers in Gross Born.jpg
Finnish Waffen-SS men in 1941
Active 1940–45
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Branch Schutzstaffel
Size approx. 500,000[1]
Garrison/HQ SS Führungshauptamt

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 units were under the control of the SS Führungshauptamt (SS Command Main Office) beneath Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Upon mobilization, the units' tactical control was given to the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).[2]

Recruitment and conscription[edit]

Recruitment began in April 1940 with the creation of two regiments: Nordland (later SS Division Nordland) and Westland (later SS Division Wiking).[3] As they 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. As the war progressed, foreign volunteers and conscripts made up one half of the entire Waffen-SS fighting force.[4][5] By February 1942 the recruitment to the Waffen-SS in south-east Europe turned into compulsory conscription for all German minorities of military age.[6]

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, recruits from France, Spain, Belgium (including Walloons), Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Balkans were signed on.[7] From 1942 forward, further units of non-Germanic recruits were formed.[8] These were known as the "Baltic Legions", made up of men from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the "Eastern Waffen-SS", including men from Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia and Cossacks.[9] By 1944 the German military began conscripting Estonians and Latvians in an effort to replenish their losses.[10][11] The foreigners who served in the Waffen-SS numbered "some 500,000", including those who were pressured into service or conscripted.[1]

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 (volunteer) (Scandinavians, Dutch, and Flemish), while the units of ethnic Germans born outside the Reich were known as Volksdeutsche and were from satellite countries. These were organized into independent legions and had the designation Waffen attached to their names for the ease of formal identification.[12] In addition, the German SS Division Wiking throughout its history included recruits from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Estonia.[13] The number of SS recruits from Sweden and Switzerland was only a de minimus number of several hundred men.[14]


During the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was declared a criminal organization for its major involvement in war crimes and for being an "integral part" of the SS.[15][16] Conscript units, however, were not deemed to be criminal as these individuals had no choice in becoming members.[11][17] A number of volunteers were executed, while others were tried and imprisoned by their countries. Still others either lived in exile or returned to their homeland.

Foreign Waffen-SS units recruited by Nazi Germany[edit]


Total: 7,000[14]


Total: 40,000 (about "evenly divided between Flemings and Walloons")[19]




Total: 6,000[22]


Total: 20,000[24]


Total: 1,180[25] to 3,000[14]


Total: 20,000[19]


Total: 20,000[14]


Total: 2,000[27]


Total: 15,000[14]


Total: 80,000[14]


Total: 50,000[19] to 55,000[4]


Total: 6,000[22]


Total: 50,000[14]


  • Spanische-Freiwilligen-Kompanie der SS 101[30]
  • Spanische-Freiwilligen-Kompanie der SS 102[30]

Soviet Union[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

Total: 54[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stein 1984, p. 133.
  2. ^ Stein 1984, p. 23.
  3. ^ Stein 1984, pp. 150, 153.
  4. ^ a b Nigel Askey. Operation Barbarossa: the Complete Organisational and Statistical Analysis. p. 568. ISBN 1304453294. 
  5. ^ Goldsworthy 2010, p. 245:  towards the end of the war many of the Waffen-SS divisions were divisions in name only and their 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 German.
  6. ^ Longerich 2012, pp. 611-612.
  7. ^ Stein 1984, pp. 172, 179.
  8. ^ Longerich 2012, pp. 500, 674.
  9. ^ Stein 1984, pp. 178-189.
  10. ^ Robert Sturdevant (10 February 1944). "Strange Guerilla Army Hampers Nazi Defence of Baltic". Times Daily (Florence, Alabama). 
  11. ^ a b Laar, Mart (2005). "Battles in Estonia in 1944". Estonia in World War II. Tallinn: Grenader. pp. 32–59. 
  12. ^ Stein 1984, pp. xvi, xviii, 151-164, 168-178.
  13. ^ Hale 2011, p. 324.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g McNab 2009, p. 95.
  15. ^ Flaherty 2004, pp. 155, 156.
  16. ^ Stein 1984, p. 251.
  17. ^ Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, Volume 22, September 1946
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h Hale 2011, p. 387.
  19. ^ a b c Stein 1984, p. 136.
  20. ^ a b c d Stein 1984, p. 154.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Hale 2011, p. 388.
  22. ^ a b Stein 1984, pp. 136, 137.
  23. ^ Hale 2011, pp. 203, 388.
  24. ^ Thomas, Nigel (2012). Germany's Eastern Front Allies (2): Baltic Forces. Osprey Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 9781780967349. 
  25. ^ Stein 1984, p. 161.
  26. ^ Littlejohn 1987, pp. 160, 161.
  27. ^ Stein 1984, p. 189.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Hale 2011, p. 389.
  29. ^ Philip S. Jowett. The Italian Army 1940-1945 (3): Italy, 1943-45. p. 18. ISBN 1855328666. 
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Hale 2011, p. 390.
  31. ^ Hale 2011, p. 391.
  32. ^ Thurlow 1998, p. 168.
  33. ^ 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. 


Further reading[edit]

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