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Waffen-SS Poster SS-Panzergrenadier Divisions in 1942-43
By Alun Gallie

History

During the 1930’s the SS (Schutz Staffel or Protection Squad) became the main paramilitary arm of the German Nazi Party. As time went on, the Waffen-SS (Armed SS) was formed as the combat arm of the SS. The Waffen-SS effectively formed a fourth arm of the military alongside the Heer (Army), Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy). This article looks at the SS-Panzergrenadier divisions operating in Russia in 1942 and 1943.
At the outbreak of war in 1939, the Waffen-SS fought alongside the regular army, much to the distrust of many military officers who did not feel that a political organisation had a role in battlefield operations. However, as the combat experience of Waffen-SS units grew, acceptance of their role as battle-proven units increased.

By 1943 eight Waffen-SS divisions formed an experienced and battle-hardened spearhead for Germany’s armies, particularly on the Eastern Front.


Read more about Mid-War history here...
Waffen-SS units on the move
Waffen-SS propaganda poster They were constantly in battle achieving a remarkable reputation for aggression and stamina in combat, but the constant combat came at a high cost in casualties. Additionally, thanks to their political connections, they enjoyed higher establishments of men and equipment.

Of the eight Waffen-SS divisions, four were SS-Panzergrenadier divisions: 1st ‘Liebstandarte SS Adolf Hitler’, 2nd ‘Das Reich’, 3rd ‘Totenkopf’, and 5th ‘Wiking’. Of the remaining four divisions the 4th ’Polizei’ operated as an infantry division, the 6th ‘Prinz Eugen’ and 7th ‘Nord’ Divisions were designated as Gerbirgs (Mountain) divisions, and the 8th ‘Florian Geyer’ was a cavalry division.
Organisation

On paper an SS-Panzergrenadier division was organised and equipped in much the same manner as an equivalent Heer (Army) division, which consisted of two Panzergrenadier regiments supported by a Panzer battalion, an artillery regiment, a tank-hunter battalion, an assault gun battalion, an anti-aircraft battalion, a reconnaissance battalion, and a pioneer battalion.

The biggest difference was the amount of armour available. Whereas the Heer division has just one battalion, SS-Panzergrenadier divisions had an entire regiment and eventually, for a while, including a company of heavy Tiger tanks. Additionally, unlike the motorised army Panzergrenadier divisions, the Waffen-SS Panzergrenadier division included a full battalion mounted in armoured half-tracks. The only Heer division that was comparable to the organisation of an SS division was the elite Grossdeutschland division.

Waffen-SS Soldier with a MG34 LMG
1. SS-Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Divisonal Symbol Divisional Histories

1. SS-Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
Originally formed from members of Hitler’s elite bodyguard (Leibstandarte in German) the LSSAH participated in the Polish and French campaigns as an independent infantry regiment. It was then stationed in France for refitting and extensive amphibious training prior to the proposed invasion of England. In 1941 it was moved to Rumania and took part in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece.

It was then brought up to divisional status and joined Army Group South for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Members of the 1. SS-Panzergrenadier Division LSSAH
Waffen-SS MG team in action Later as part of Panzer Group 1, they were part of in the encirclement of Kiev and the capture of Rostov. A massive Soviet counterattack forced LSSAH out of Rostov. After heavy casualties they were withdrawn to France for refitting in August 1942. During this time they were redesignated as a Panzergrenadier division.

In February 1943 the deteriorating situation on the Soviet Front saw the division returned to the east as part of II. SS-Panzerkorps tasked with the holding of the city of Kharkov. Fierce fighting ensued and the commander of II. SS-Panzerkorps, Paul Hausser, ordered the city abandoned in spite of Hitler’s order to hold at all cost.
Fighting a mobile battle, the Panzerkorps counterattacked on the 23rd February, recapturing the city after three weeks of vicious fighting.

Read more about the Battle of Kharkov here...

The toll was high. Leibstandarte suffered some 4500 casualties. These battlefield casualties were made up by replacements taken from Luftwaffe personal, much to the disgust of the divisional commander, Sepp Dietrich. 

Tiger I E
During this time many of Leibstandarte’s veteran officers and senior NCOs were also being transferred to form the nucleus around which a new division, 12. SS-PanzerGrenadierdivision Hitlerjugend, would be formed. In early July Dietrich left to form I. SS-Panzerkorps and the division passed to the command of Theodore ‘Teddy’ Wisch.

On the 5th of July 1943, Leibstandarte spearheaded the southern pincer in the Battle of Kursk. Initially good progress was made and by mid July the division was fighting on the outskirts of the city. On the 12th of July 1943 SS armour clashed with Soviet armour in a major action outside the village of Prokhorovka in largest armoured battle in history.

Following Kursk and the allied invasion of Italy, LSSAH was withdrawn to Italy and employed in anti-partisan operations until late 1943. During this time the division was redesignated as a Panzer division.

2. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision 'Das Reich' Divisional Symbol 2. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision Das Reich 

The SS-Verfügungsdivision (SS-V) participated in the campaign for the Lowlands and France. A period in France preparing for the aborted invasion of England followed before it was renamed the SS Das Reich Division.
Das Reich (‘The Empire’) was transferred to Romania to participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. Following its participation in the successful capture of Belgrade it was again relocated to Poland to prepare for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union.

During the invasion Das Reich formed part of the spearhead of Army Group Centre. In November 1941 it came within a few miles of the Soviet capital, Moscow. Combat losses, a harsh winter, and a major Soviet counteroffensive combined to push the division back and they were pulled out and returned to France to refit as a Panzer Grenadier division.

In early 1943 Das Reich was transferred back to the Eastern Front as part of II. SS-Panzerkorps. There it participated in the heavy fighting defending Kharkov. Following Hausser’s withdrawal Das Reich, together with Leibstandarte and Totenkopf, recaptured Kharkov, smashing into the city and routing the Red Army defenders in a week.
Panzer IV in action
Waffen-SS Machine-gunner armed with a MG42 Reinforced, Das Reich covered the right flank of the German advance in the southern sector during the July offensive on the Kursk salient. Heavily supported by Stuka dive-bomber’s they pushed the advance forward in the southern sector by approximately 40 miles before the offensive was checked by a Soviet counterattack. Das Reich, supported by the other Waffen-SS divisions and Stuka dive bombers, held the counterattack at bay and accounted for some 300 soviet armoured vehicles destroyed.
Losses on both sides were horrendous and although the Soviet losses were numerically greater than those of the Germans, they were also better able to absorb and recover from them. The German offensive was cancelled and portions of the division were withdrawn to France to be refitted as a Panzer division.

However, a large part of Das Reich remained on the Eastern Front to hold back the massive Soviet counteroffensive for the rest of the year. This Kampfgruppe Das Reich was withdrawn from the front at the end of the year to rejoin the remainder of the division in France.

Waffen-SS members listen to a radio announcement
3. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision Totenkopf  Divisional Symbol 3. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision Totenkopf 

Perhaps the most notorious of the SS divisions, 3. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision Totenkopf (‘Deaths Head’) was originally formed from the "Totenkopfverbande" units formed to guard the concentration camps in pre-war Germany.
This infamous reputation was further added to following massacres in Poland and France in 1939-40.

The Totenkopf division suffered more casualties than any other participant, at one point losing 300 officers in ten days of fighting, and greatly added to the SS reputation for aggressiveness in combat and disregard for casualties. During 1941 the division remained in occupation in France and received many new recruits untarnished by service in concentration camps.

Waffen-SS soldiers during a lull in the action
The division participated in the second wave of the invasion of the Soviet Union as part of Army Group North. In August the division was involved in heavy fighting around Leningrad and had suffered in excess of 4000 casualties and by the end of the year was fully on the defence and down to approximately 50% strength.

In 1942 Totenkopf was encircled in the Demyansk Pocket. By April a narrow relief corridor had been forced but the division remained in place defending and by August had a strength of just 2700. The nominal strength of full infantry division should have been around 17,000. They had suffered over 13,000 casualties and been awarded 11 Knight’s Crosses. In November the tattered remnants were withdrawn to France for refitting and upgrading to a Panzergrenadier division.

Panzer IIIs moving a road At the start of 1943 Totenkopf returned to the Eastern front, forming part of the new II. SS-Panzerkorps. In company with Leibstandarte and Das Reich, they participated in the successful recapture of Kharkov and the massive armoured battles around Kursk that followed. After Kursk the division was pushed back to Kharkov where, although hugely outnumbered, they defended for a week until the decision to vacate the city was made.
Totenkopf then took part with Das Reich in a series of counterattacks designed to cover the German withdrawal.

The remainder of 1943 was spend fulfilling the role of a ‘fire brigade’ in company with the remnants of Das Reich and the Heer’s elite Grossdeutschland division, rushing from one crisis to another. In November 1943 the division was withdrawn and upgraded in status to a Panzer division.

Using a halftrack as cover during an advance
5. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision Wiking 5. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision Wiking

The fifth SS division was formed in 1940 with volunteers from the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Belgium.

SS-Regiment Germania was transferred from Das Reich to form an experienced core around which the new division could be built. Initially the intention was to name the new division Germania, but due to possible confusion with the regiment of the same name, Wiking (‘Viking’) was settled on instead. Interestingly, a unit of Finish volunteers was also attached to the division before its deployment to Poland to prepare for the Soviet invasion.

SS-Division Wiking participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union as part of III Panzerkorps. Operating closely with the Air Force’s Regiment General Goring, they maintained a steady advance across the River Dnepr towards Oktyabrisk before the Red Army counter offensives and bitter winter saw the advance stalled in November.

With the arrival of summer the German offensive was renewed and Wiking continued to advance from the Mius River to Rostov and then attempted to secure the strategically important Caucasus oilfields. When winter again stalled the offensive in November 1942, Wiking was an experienced and proven combat unit and this was recognised by the upgrading of its status to a Panzergrenadier division.

The structure of the division also changed somewhat in the first half on 1943 when one of the original regiments, Nordland, was transferred to form the nucleus of a new Panzergrenadier division of the same name.  More foreign volunteers joined the division, including a battalion-sized group of Estonians.

Waffen-SS trooper
Whilst officially recognised as a non-German unit and having many volunteers from various nationalities the reality is the largest percentage of the division were actually Germans.

1943 started badly for the Germans with the disaster of Stalingrad and a heavy Soviet counteroffensive in the south. This saw SS-Panzergrenadier Wiking pushed back into defensive positions around Izyum in heavy fighting. When the front stabilised, Wiking was rebuilt and went into reserve on the northern flank of the Kursk battlefield. Its rest was short lived as it was quickly thrown into battle to delay the Soviet counteroffensive and spent the rest of the year fighting in the slow retreat to the Dnepr River.

Eastern Front Fielding an SS-Panzergrenadier Force in Flames Of War

Use Eastern Front to represent the Waffen-SS units serving on the Eastern Front during 1942-1943.

Check out Eastern Front in the online store...
Check out the Eastern Front Design Notes with Phil here...
You can select units from the appropriate lists using the SS options provided in Eastern Front.

Right: An example of a SS option as shown in Eastern Front.

Waffen-SS Options in Eastern Front

Modelling Waffen-SS

The Waffen-SS was essentially equipped in the same manner as the Heer troops. As such most figures in the Flames Of War German range can be utilised in an SS force, particularly those from the mid or late war period. Some examples of Waffen-SS product in the online store:

GBX18 SS-Panzergrenadierkompanie...
GE813 SS-Panzergrenadier Platoon (Late)...
GE817 SS-Pioneer Platoon (Late)...
GE791 SS Panzergrenadier Platoon...
2.SS-Panzerdivision Das Reich Gaming Set...
3. SS-Panzerdivision Totenkopf Gaming set...
5. SS-Panzerdivision Wiking Gaming Set...
GPS03 German SS Paint Set...

The SS were among the first combat troops to make use of camouflage uniforms and had their own patterns of camouflage that differed to those used by other forces.

An example of Waffen-SS camouflage uniform Reversible camouflage combat smocks were popular equipment and should certainly feature prominently in an SS force. Matching camouflage helmet covers were also used extensively.

The SS also produced its own camouflaged version of the Panzer troop uniform in Pea pattern camouflage. Unlike the combat smocks these were not reversible but are often seen alongside the traditional black of panzer crews.

Most period photos show troops on the eastern Front in a wide mix of uniform pieces, with the focus on functionality and warmth rather than parade ground appearance.

The painting of camouflage is a challenging skill to learn but the satisfaction of tabling a finely painted force in camouflage uniforms is extremely satisfying.

Read Simon's guide to painting SS Plane Tree and Oak Leaf Camouflage uniforms here...
Read James' and Jeremy's guide to modelling SS from Heer crew here...

An SS force also provides a painter an opportunity to do extra detail work on items such as arm and helmet markings, collar tabs, cuff titles, decoration ribbons and Waffenfarbe (Branch of Service) piped shoulder straps. SS troops predominantly used the same Waffenfarbe colours as the Heer with the notable exception of Panzer Grenadiers. SS-Panzergrenadiers wore the white Waffenfarbe of the infantry as opposed to the grass green Waffenfarbe worn by Heer Panzer Grenadiers.

Waffem-SS Infantry


Last Updated On Thursday, November 4, 2010 by Chris at Battlefront