Waffen-SS: Hitler's Elite Guard at War 1939-1945
Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 8 Mar 2007
This book is an update of Stein’s classic reference work on the Waffen-SS. It begins with the initial formations of the SS, and takes the reader through the end of the war. More than just a historical record, this work also discusses some of the ideological issues and political battles that plagued the Waffen-SS.
The history is broken down within the chapters, as follows:
- The Formative Years: 1933-1939: This chapter discusses the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) purpose, organization, selection, and training, as well as the difficulties in the relationship between the SS and the Army.
- From Verfügungstruppe to Waffen-SS: In this chapter, the SS-VT goes to war. The problems and solutions found during the Polish campaign are analyzed before the campaign in the west. Also discussed are problems with official recognition, as well as the fights for recruits and equipment. The transition from SS-VT to Waffen-SS also takes place.
- Toward a Military Reputation: In the third chapter, the Waffen-SS goes to war in the west. It is during these campaigns that the reputation as fearless fighters begins to develop, along with the reputation for atrocities in the field.
- From West to East: The Development of the Waffen-SS: During the period between the fall of France, and the invasion of Russia, the Waffen-SS still had to struggle for men and equipment. This chapter goes more into the difficulties they had with the Wehrmacht. The reorganization of the Waffen-SS leading to the Russian campaign, as well as the Balkans campaigns are also discussed.
- Some Military Consequences of an Ideology: Stein focuses on the ideological aspects of the war in this chapter, and how it affected the Waffen-SS.
- The West European SS: Mobilisation of Foreign Nationals, I: One of the aspects of the Waffen-SS that was trumpeted after the war was the Pan-European aspect of the organization. It is in this chapter that this phenomenon is discussed. The differences between the Germanic SS and the Eastern SS units is also discussed.
- The East European SS: Mobilisation of Foreign Nations, II: Though Himmler initially dictated strict racial standards for his SS, the fortunes of war caused him to make changes in that policy. This chapter discusses Baltic, Ukrainian, Balkan, and Ethnic Germans units formed under the auspices of the Waffen-SS. Also discussed are failed attempts to develop units such as the Indian Legion, or the British Free Corps.
- The Waffen-SS Comes of Age: 1942-1943: This chapter pretty much brings the previous chapters together, and provides an overview of what was going on throughout the Waffen-SS in this time period.
- To the Bitter End: The Waffen-SS and the Defence of the Third Reich, 1943-1945: Picking up where the previous chapter left off, this chapter tells of the ferocity of the fighting as the war came to a close, and Germany was defeated. Each front is discussed, as is the final fight for Berlin.
- The Tarnished Shield: Waffen-SS Criminality: It is in this chapter that the crimes and atrocities of the SS are discussed. These range from the first concentration camps, through the death camps, murder squads, and other combat atrocities.
- Reprise and Assessment: This chapter functions as a summary.
There is also an appendix, with added material from previous editions. Included are comparative rank tables, rank charts, lists of units, divisional insignia, and a chart of the overall SS organization. There are also a number of photos in the book that were not in previous editions.
This book is useful for both the novice, or knowledgeable reader. It has become one of the more standard references used for the Waffen-SS. Originally written before the advent of digital means of information retrieval, it has withstood the test of time for accuracy and depth.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939