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 had 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]

History of the Waffen-SS

The Waffen-SS (Armed SS) was created as the militarized wing of the Schutzstaffel (SS; "Protective Squadron") of the Nazi Party after the Night of the Long Knives purge of the Sturmabteilung (SA; "Storm Detachment") leadership.[3] In 1933, a group of 120 SS men were chosen to form the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH).[4] In 1934 the SS developed its own military branch, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), which together with the LSSAH, later evolved into the Waffen-SS. Nominally under the authority of Heinrich Himmler, the Waffen-SS developed a fully militarised structure of command and operations. It grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions during World War II, serving alongside the Heer (army), while never formally being a part of it.[5] It was Hitler's wish that the Waffen-SS should never be integrated into either the army or the state police, instead it would remain an independent force of military-trained men at the disposal of the Führer in times of both war and peace.[6][7]

Recruitment and conscription

In 1934 Himmler initially set stringent requirements for recruits. They were to be German nationals who could prove their Aryan ancestry back to 1800, unmarried, and without a criminal record. Recruits had to be between the ages of 17 and 23, at least 1.74 metres (5 ft 9 in) tall (1.78 metres (5 ft 10 in) for the Leibstandarte). Recruits were required to have perfect teeth and eyesight and provide a medical certificate.[8] By 1938 the height restrictions were relaxed, up to six dental fillings were permitted, and eyeglasses for astigmatism and mild vision correction were allowed.[9] Once World War II commenced in Europe, the physical requirements were no longer strictly enforced, and essentially any recruit who could pass a basic medical exam was considered for Waffen-SS service.[9] Following the campaign in the West in 1940, Hitler authorized the enlistment of "people perceived to be of related stock", as Himmler put it, to expand the ranks.[10] A number of Danes, Dutch, Norwegians, Swedes and Finns volunteered to fight in the Waffen-SS under the command of German officers.[11][12] Non-Germanic units were not considered to be part of the SS directly, which still maintained its strict racial criteria, instead they were considered to be foreign nationals serving under the command of the SS.[13]

Recruitment began in April 1940 with the creation of two regiments: Nordland (later SS Division Nordland) and Westland (later SS Division Wiking).[10] 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 Waffen-SS.[14][15] By February 1942 the recruitment to the Waffen-SS in south-east Europe turned into compulsory conscription for all German minorities of military age.[16]

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, recruits from France, Spain, Belgium (including Walloons), the territory of occupied Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Balkans were signed on.[17] From 1942 forward, further units of non-Germanic recruits were formed.[12] Legions were formed of men from Estonia, Latvia as well as men from Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia and Cossacks.[18] By 1944 the German military began conscripting Estonians and Latvians in an effort to replenish their losses.[19][20] 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. Germanic units would have the "SS" prefix while non-Germanic units were designated with the "Waffen" prefix to their names.[21] 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 their members 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.[22] In addition, the German SS Division Wiking included recruits from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Estonia throughout its history.[23] The number of SS recruits from Sweden and Switzerland was only a de minimus number of several hundred men.[24] Despite manpower shortages, the Waffen-SS was still based on the racist ideology of Nazism, thereby ethnic Poles were specifically barred from the formations due to them being looked upon as "subhumans".[25][26][27]


Former Baltic Waffen Grenadier conscripts, wearing black uniforms with blue helmets and white belts, guarding Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess and other top Nazis during the Nuremberg Trials.

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.[28][29] Conscript units, however, were not deemed to be criminal as these individuals had no choice in becoming members.[20][30] 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.

After the German Instrument of Surrender, many volunteers were tried and imprisoned by their countries. In several cases, volunteers were executed. Henri Joseph Fenet, one of the last recipients of the Knight's Cross was sentenced to 20 years of forced labour and released from prison in 1959.[31] Some were far less lucky and were shot upon capture by the French authorities. General Leclerc was famously presented with a defiant group of 11 or 12 captured 33rd SS Charlemagne men. The Free French General immediately asked them why they wore a German uniform, to which one of them replied by asking the General why he wore an American one; the Free French wore modified US Army uniforms. The group of French Waffen-SS men was then promptly executed without any form of military tribunal procedure.[32]

Walloon leader Leon Degrelle escaped to Spain, where, despite being sentenced to death in absentia by the Belgian authorities, he lived in exile until his death in 1994.[33] Some 146 Baltic soldiers from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who fought against Soviets and escaped to Sweden were extradited to Soviet Union in 1946.[34]

The men of the XV SS Cossack Corps found themselves in Austria at the end of the war and surrendered to British troops. Even though they were given assurances that they would not be turned over to the Soviets, they nevertheless were forcibly removed from the compound and transferred to the USSR. This event became known as the Betrayal of the Cossacks. Most of the Cossacks were executed for treason.[35][36]

After the war members of Baltic Waffen-Grenadier Units were considered separate and distinct in purpose, ideology and activities from the German SS by the Western Allies. Subsequently in the spring of 1946, out of the ranks of Baltic conscripts who had surrendered to the Western allies in the previous year, a total of nine companies were formed with a mission to guard the external perimeter of the Nuremberg International Tribunal courthouse and the various depots and residences of US officers and prosecutors connected with the trial. The men were also entrusted with guarding the accused Nazi war criminals held in prison during the trial up until the day of execution.[37][38]

Foreign Waffen-SS units recruited by Nazi Germany


Total: 6,500 to 7,000[24]


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




Total: 6,000[43]


Total: 20,000[45]


Total: 1,180[46] to 3,000[24]


Total: 20,000[40]


Total: 20,000[24]


Total: 2,000[48]


Total: 15,000[24]


Total: 80,000[24]


Total: 50,000[40] to 55,000[14]


Total: 6,000[43]


Total: 50,000[24]


  • Spanische-Freiwilligen-Kompanie der SS 101[51]
  • Spanische-Freiwilligen-Kompanie der SS 102[51]

Soviet Union

United Kingdom

Total: 54[53]


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Stein 1984, p. 133.
  2. Stein 1984, p. 23.
  3. Bender & Taylor 1971, p. 23.
  4. Flaherty 2004, p. 144.
  5. McNab 2009, pp. 56, 57, 66.
  6. Reitlinger 1989, p. 84.
  7. McNab 2009, pp. 56–66.
  8. Weale 2010, pp. 201–204.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Weale 2010, p. 204.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Stein 1984, pp. 150, 153.
  11. Koehl 2004, pp. 213–214.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Longerich 2012, pp. 500, 674.
  13. Longerich 2012, p. 769.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Nigel Askey. Operation Barbarossa: the Complete Organisational and Statistical Analysis. p. 568. ISBN 1304453294.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 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 represented only the main country of origin of men in that unit. In most cases the officers and NCOs of the unit were German.
  16. Longerich 2012, pp. 611, 612.
  17. Stein 1984, pp. 172, 179.
  18. Stein 1984, pp. 178–189.
  19. Robert Sturdevant (10 February 1944). "Strange Guerilla Army Hampers Nazi Defence of Baltic". Times Daily. Florence, Alabama.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 Laar, Mart (2005). "Battles in Estonia in 1944". Estonia in World War II. Tallinn: Grenamder. pp. 32–59.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Gerwarth, Robert; Böhler, Jochen (2016). The Waffen-SS: A European History. Oxford University Press. p. 200. ISBN 9780192507822.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Stein 1984, pp. xvi, xviii, 151–164, 168–178.
  23. Hale 2011, p. 324.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 24.6 McNab 2009, p. 95.
  25. W. Borodziej, Ruch oporu w Polsce w świetle tajnych akt niemieckich, Część IX, Kierunki 1985, nr 16.
  26. Polska i Polacy w propagandzie narodowego socjalizmu w Niemczech 1919-1945 Eugeniusz Cezary Król Instytut Studiów Politycznych Polskiej Akademii Nauk, 2006, page 452
  27. Terror i polityka: policja niemiecka a polski ruch oporu w GG 1939-1944 Włodzimierz Borodziej Instytut Wydawniczy Pax, 1985, p. 86.
  28. Flaherty 2004, pp. 155, 156.
  29. Stein 1984, p. 251.
  30. Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, Volume 22, September 1946
  31. "Ritterkreuzträger Henri Joseph Fenet" (in German). Retrieved 10 November 2008. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. This incident took place May 8, 1945, at Bad Reichenhall in Bavaria
  33. Encyclopædia Britannica. "Leon Degrelle". Retrieved 2009-12-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. "Virtual Museum OCCUPATION OF LATVIA".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. Chereshneff, Colonel W.V. (1952), The History of Cossacks, Rodina Society Archives<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Roberts, Andrew (June 4, 2005), BLOOD ON OUR HANDS;, The Daily Mail Check date values in: |accessdate= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Mart Laar, Eesti Leegion sonas ja pildis, Grenader Grupp, 2008, ISBN 978-9949-422-61-6
  38. "Esprits de corps - Nuremberg Tribunal Guard Co. 4221 marks 56th anniversary". Eesti Elu.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 39.4 39.5 39.6 39.7 Hale 2011, p. 387.
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Stein 1984, p. 136.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 Stein 1984, p. 154.
  42. 42.00 42.01 42.02 42.03 42.04 42.05 42.06 42.07 42.08 42.09 42.10 42.11 Hale 2011, p. 388.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Stein 1984, pp. 136, 137.
  44. Hale 2011, pp. 203, 388.
  45. Thomas, Nigel (2012). Germany's Eastern Front Allies (2): Baltic Forces. Osprey Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 9781780967349.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. Stein 1984, p. 161.
  47. Littlejohn 1987, pp. 160, 161.
  48. Stein 1984, p. 189.
  49. 49.00 49.01 49.02 49.03 49.04 49.05 49.06 49.07 49.08 49.09 49.10 49.11 Hale 2011, p. 389.
  50. Philip S. Jowett. The Italian Army 1940–1945 (3): Italy, 1943–45. p. 18. ISBN 1855328666.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  51. 51.00 51.01 51.02 51.03 51.04 51.05 51.06 51.07 51.08 51.09 51.10 51.11 51.12 51.13 Hale 2011, p. 390.
  52. Hale 2011, p. 391.
  53. Thurlow 1998, p. 168.
  54. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • Flaherty, T. H. (2004) [1988]. The Third Reich: The SS. Time-Life. ISBN 1-84447-073-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Goldsworthy, Terry (2010). Valhalla's Warriors: A History of the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front 1941–1945. Dog Ear Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60844-639-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hale, Christopher (2011). Hitler's Foreign Executioners: Europe's Dirty Secret. The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-5974-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Littlejohn, David (1987). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich Vol. 1 Norway, Denmark, France. Bender Publishing. ISBN 978-0912138176.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Longerich, Peter (2012). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959232-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945. Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-906626-49-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Reitlinger, Gerald (1989). The SS: Alibi of a Nation, 1922–1945. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80351-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Stein, George H (1984). The Waffen SS: Hitler's Elite Guard at War, 1939–1945. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801492754.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Thurlow, Richard (1998). Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918–1945. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1860643378.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Weale, Adrian (2010). The SS: A New History. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1-4087-0304-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Judah, Tim (2002). Kosovo: War and Revenge. Yale University. ISBN 978-0-300-09725-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Nafziger, George (1992). "Organizational History of the German SS Formations 1939–1945" (PDF). Combined Arms Research Digital Library.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tomasevich, Jozo (1975). War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945: The Chetniks. Stanford University. ISBN 0-8047-0857-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Weale, Adrian (2012). Army of Evil: A History of the SS. New York; Toronto: NAL Caliber (Penguin Group). ISBN 978-0-451-23791-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links