Of all the German organizations during WWII, the SS is by far the most infamous - and the least understood amongst average historians. The SS was in fact not a monolithic "Black Corps" of goose stepping Gestapo men, as is often depicted in popular media and in many third rate historical works. The SS was in reality a complex political and military organization made up of three separate and distinct branches, all related but equally unique in their functions and goals. The Allgemeine-SS (General SS) was the main branch of this overwhelmingly complex organization, and it served a politicial and administrative role. The SS-Totenkopfverbande (SS Deaths Head Organization) and later, the Waffen-SS (Armed SS), were the other two branches that made up the structure of the SS. The Waffen-SS, formed in 1940, was the true military formation of the larger SS. Formed from the SS-Verfungstruppe after the Campaign in France in 1940, the Waffen-SS would become an elite military formation of nearly 600,000 men by the time WWII was over. Its units would spearhead some of the most crucial battles of WWII while its men would shoulder some of the most difficult and daunting combat opertations of all the units in the German military. The Waffen-SS is sometimes thought of as the 4th branch of the German Wehrmacht (Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine) as in the field it came under the direct tactical control of the OKW, although this notion is technically incorrect as strategic control remained within the hands of the SS. To this day the actions of the Waffen-SS and its former members are vilified for ultimately being a part of the larger structure of the political Allgemeine-SS, regardless of the fact that the Waffen-SS was a front line combat organization.
After the surrender, many volunteers were tried and imprisoned by their countries. In several cases, volunteers were executed. Those volunteers from the Baltic States and Ukraine could at best look forward to years spent in the gulags. To avoid this, many ex-volunteers from these regions joined underground resistance groups (see Forest Brothers) which were engaged fighting the Soviets until the 1950s.
Many other Waffen-SS volunteers, including many Wiking veterans, avoided punishment by joining the French Foreign Legion, and many ex-SS men fought and died at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
GREAT HISTORY VIDEOS
This video tells the story of Hitler's inner circle of protection, an elite corps of combat troops known as the Schutzstaffel, or SS. The SS was headed by Heinrich Himmler from 1929 on until the demise of the Nazi war machine and his own suicide. Under his leadership, the role of the SS expanded from being a protective force to that of a powerful party weapon to coerce or eliminate Hitler's political enemies. The secret police, or Gestapo, terrorized the nation. The SS also supervised the concentration camps and oversaw the murders of millions of people. Some units, known as "waffen" or "armed" SS, were used as elite shock troops. The film tells the terrible story of Himmler and his men with rare archival footage and first person accounts