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    Schutzstaffeln: Protection Units (SS)

Photo:  An SS member stands guard at a National Socialist Party rally in Nuremburg, Germany in the early days preceding World War II.  

The infamous “SS” of World War II history has its roots in small guard units organized by Adolf Hitler during the early days of the National Socialist Worker’s Party (NSDAP – “Nazi Party”).  These “headquarters guard units” (Stabswache) were created for the purpose of protecting Adolf Hitler from other members of the Nazi Party.  Fearing power challenges from within, in March 1923 Adolf Hitler authorized a special 30 man bodyguard unit that swore loyalty only to him.  This group of bodyguards was formed in Munich from trusted members of the Storm Troopers (Sturmabteilungen-SA). In May 1923 Hitler renamed the group “Strosstruppe Adolf Hitler” to ensure that it would not be confused with other bodyguard units already operating within the Sturmabteilungen (SA).  

After Hitler’s unsuccessful 1923 attempt at overthrowing the Bavarian government, all Nazi Party activities were outlawed and disbanded.  After his release from prison, Hitler reorganized the Nazi Party which had dwindled during his absence.  In March 1925 he created small protection squads (Schutzstaffeln) to guard him and other Nazi leaders.  One of these guard units was dedicated to Hitler’s protection and hence named “SA-Standarte Adolf Hitler”.  The “Protection Squads of the NSDAP” (Schutzstaffeln der NSDAP) were announced in an official ceremony that took place in Munich during November 1923.

Between 1923 and 1929 Schutzstaffel units (now abbreviated  “SS”) grew in size and number.  Their members, however, were often disregarded as unimportant by other leaders of the SA. With poor leadership and little support, morale in the SS dropped while membership fell to very low numbers.  Fearing a political overthrow by leaders of the SA, Hitler ordered Heinrich Himmler to take command of the SS on 6 January 1929.  Himmler intended to revitalize the membership of the SS in an effort to challenge the power-base of the SA. 

Owing most of its renewed growth to Himmler’s efforts, by 1932 the SS was comprised of more than 25,000 men serving in both guard and administrative units. In 1933 an elite “life guard” unit (Leibstandarte) had been created out of the former “SA-Standarte Adolf Hitler.”  This group was given the new title “SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” and its members were organized and trained by their commander, Joseph “Sepp” Dietrich. 

Following the overthrow of Ernest Röhm and other SA leaders in 1934, the path lay open for Hitler to go unchallenged from threats within the Nazi Party.  With membership now boasting more than 200,000 people organized into a vast network of administrative and security personnel, Hitler declared the SS a separate organization on 20 July 1934.  Men of the SS wore a variety of helmets starting with the early, transitional model World War I helmets painted black.  Later, members of the SS were issued regular combat helmets such as the M1935, M1940, and M1942 models.  These helmets often carried the infamous insignia of the SS, however many never carried any insignia at all.

 

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This Information Track provides historical facts pertaining to steel helmets worn by the Schutzstaffeln (SS) from 1934-1945.  Individual links related to this subject are outlined below.

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Veteran Accounts

The personal recollections of German veterans serve to enhance our collective knowledge regarding the use of steel helmets.  Accounts such as these are drawn from the 'living memory' of men who depended on their helmets for lifesaving protection.


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