Bruce Quarrie - Waffen SS in Rusia
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When Hitler invaded Soviet Russia in June 1941, Waffen-SS divisions were in the forefront of the fighting and remained there throughout the war, spearheading the drive on Moscow and the battles around Kharkov and Kursk, and finally capitulating only after last-ditch stands in the crumbling ruins of the Third Reich in 1945. Throughout these four years the SS divisions, whose personnel owed their loyalty personally to Hitler rather than to the German state, and whom he therefore trusted more than the Army, were placed wherever the situation was most critical and the fighting hardest. Their casualties were enormous, but their loyalty immense.
Volunteers for the Waffen-SS were enlisted through the ordinary Army recruiting offices who, naturally, did not want to see the cream of German youth entering 'Himmler's private army' and held their numbers down to a mere third of what they might otherwise have been. Nevertheless, by 1944 there were approximately 910,000 fighting soldiers in some 38 SS divisions -not all stationed in Russia, of course. In 1941, however, there were only four divisions involved: the SS Leibstandarte 'Adolf Hitler', the SS 'Reich' (later to be renamed 'Das Reich'), the SS 'Totenkopf and the SS 'Wiking'. The first and last of these formed part of von Kleist's Panzergruppe in Army Group South, SS 'Reich' as part of Guderian's Panzergruppe in the centre, and 'Totenkopf as part of Hoepner's Panzergruppe in the north. At this time the SS formations were of similar composition and strength to regular Army motorised infantry divisions, but included a small complement of tanks. Later in the war they were to grow to the size of full-fledged Panzer divisions.