Waffen-SS - World War II - 1941 - Soviet Union

Soviet Union

Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, started on 22 June 1941, and all the Waffen-SS formations participated (including the SS Reich which was formally renamed to SS Das Reich by the Fall of 1941).

SS Division Nord in northern Finland took part in Operation Arctic Fox with the Finnish Army and at the battle at Salla, where against strong Soviet forces they suffered 300 killed and 400 wounded in the first two days of the invasion. The battle at Salla was a disaster: the thick forests and heavy smoke from forest fires disoriented the troops and the division's units completely fell apart. By the end of 1941, Nord had suffered severe casualties. Over the winter of 1941–42 it received replacements from the general pool of Waffen-SS recruits, who were supposedly younger and better trained than the SS-men of the original formation, which had been drawn largely from Totenkopfstandarten of concentration camp guards.

The rest of the Waffen-SS divisions and brigades fared better. The SS Totenkopf and Polizei divisions were attached to Army Group North, with the mission to advance through the Baltic states and onto Leningrad. The SS Division Das Reich was with Army Group Centre and headed towards Moscow. The SS Division Wiking and the Leibstandarte were with Army Group South, heading for the Ukraine and the city of Kiev.

The war in the Soviet Union proceeded well at first, but the cost to the Waffen-SS was extreme: the Leibstandarte by late October was at half strength due to enemy action and dysentery that swept through the ranks. Das Reich had lost 60% of its strength and was still to take part in the Battle of Moscow, and was decimated in the following Soviet offensive. The Der Führer Regiment was reduced to 35 men out of the 2,000 that had started the campaign in June. Altogether, the Waffen-SS had suffered 43,000 casualties.

While the Leibstandarte and the SS divisions were fighting in the front line, behind the lines it was a different story. The 1 SS Infantry and 2 SS Infantry Brigades, which had been formed from surplus concentration camp guards of the SS-TV, and the SS Cavalry Brigade moved into the Soviet Union behind the advancing armies. At first they fought Soviet partisans and cut off units of the Red Army in the rear of Army Group South, capturing 7,000 prisoners of war, but from mid-August 1941 until late 1942 they were assigned to the Reich Main Security Office headed by Reinhard Heydrich. The brigades were now used for rear area security and policing, and, most importantly, they were not under Army or Waffen-SS command. In the autumn of 1941, they left the anti-partisan role to other units and actively took part in the Holocaust. While assisting the Einsatzgruppen, they participated in the liquidation of the Jewish population of the Soviet Union, forming firing parties when required. The three brigades were responsible for the murder of tens of thousands by the end of 1941.

Because it was more mobile and better able to carry out large-scale operations, the SS Cavalry Brigade played a pivotal role in the transition from "selective mass murder" to the wholesale extermination of the Jewish population. On 27 July, the Brigade was ordered into action, and by 1 August the SS Cavalry Regiment was responsible for the death of 800 people; five days later, on 6 August, this total had reached 3,000 "Jews and Partisans". On 1 August, after a meeting between Heinrich Himmler, Erich von Bach-Zelewski and Hinrich Lohse, the brigades received the following order:

Explicit order by RFSS: All Jews must be shot. Drive the female Jews into the swamps.

Gustav Lombard, on receiving the order, advised his Battalion that "In future not one male Jew is to remain alive, not one family in the villages." Throughout the next weeks, soldiers of SS Cavalry Regiment 1 under Lombard's command murdered an estimated 11,000 Jews and more than 400 dispersed soldiers of the Red Army.

Read more about this topic:  Waffen-SS, World War II, 1941

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Famous quotes by soviet union:

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    If the Soviet Union let another political party come into existence, they would still be a one-party state, because everybody would join the other party.
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