An in-depth examination of the elite group of soldiers originally designed as Hitler’s bodyguards and carefully groomed and trained by Heinrich Himmler for murderous duty.
British military historian and broadcaster Gilbert (Challenge of Battle: The Real Story of the British Army in 1914, 2014, etc.) offers a nuts-and-bolts, chronological study of the Waffen-SS, from the time of Himmler’s assumption of its command in 1929 through training, successes, atrocities on the Eastern and Western fronts, and to its bitter defeat in 1945 (and resurrection in a postwar loyalists’ group). After Hitler’s elimination of Ernst Röhm and his thuggish SA (the “brownshirts”) in the so-called Night of the Long Knives on June 29, 1934, the elite Schutzstaffel became the “prime arbiter of violence in Nazi Germany.” Himmler envisioned a group with “a confirmed Aryan pedigree and a high level of physical fitness”—education was not a priority—forged into “a vanguard of political soldiers for the Nazi cause.” Of course, the men would be inculcated in racial doctrine and develop an intense sense of comradeship. Gilbert explores the competitive dynamic between the Germany army and the SS and the army’s attempts to undermine the SS and its various splinter groups. While Himmler pursued his vision of an ever larger role for the SS—as the racial war against the Jews and Slavs progressed—Hitler “did not favor diluting its special character through mass recruitment.” As Nazi expansion continued, so did the widening makeup of the SS, and the group began to incorporate mercenary Dutch, Finns, Norwegians, and Danes. With the Germans increasingly desperate, “the once fixed racial lines were also becoming…blurred, something not lost on bemused Waffen-SS veterans.” Ultimately, the organization fought until the bitter end. Of the “more than 900,000 men [who] passed through its ranks,” writes Gilbert, “...300,000 were killed or died of their wounds.”
A fairly technical study featuring some riveting revelations about the diverse makeup of the notorious Nazi organization.