Ranks and insignia of the Schutzstaffel

The ranks and insignia of the Schutzstaffel were a paramilitary rank system used by the SS to differentiate that organization from the regular German armed forces, the German state, and the Nazi Party. The original SS ranks were initially the same as the ranks of the SA but eventually developed their own unique titles. In line with the "Führerprinzip" (Leadership Principle) of the Nazi party's ideology, the word "Führer" was incorporated into all ranks except those for enlisted men.

rank insignia

1934–1945


1925–1929

The earliest SS ranks were titles with no recognizable insignia. By 1929, a system of white stripes, centered on an armband, denoted SS rank with the first established SS ranks listed below:

* Reichsführer (Reich Leader) "Three Stripes"
* Oberführer (Senior Leader) "Two Stripes"
* Staffelführer (Squadron Leader) "One Stripe"
* Mann (Trooper) "No Stripes"

Police ranks

In 1936, the SS absorbed the regular German police and formed the Ordnungspolizei. Known as the "Orpo", the Ordnungspolizei was considered a full branch of the SS but maintained a separate system of insignia and Orpo ranks. It was also possible for SS members to hold dual status in both the Orpo and the SS, and SS-Generals were referred to simultaneously by both rank titles. For instance, an "Obergruppenführer" in the SS, who was also a Police General, would be referred to as "Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei".

Waffen-SS Generals

SS Generals of the Waffen-SS were typically addressed by both their SS rank title and a corresponding General's rank associated with the Wehrmacht. All such General ranks were followed by the phrase "der Waffen-SS" to distinguish the SS General from their counterparts in other branches of the German military. Thus, a typical title would be "Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS".

In 1944, all SS General Officers were granted equivalent Waffen-SS rank so that, in the event that they were captured by the Allies, they would have status as military officers instead of police officials. For those who had held police rank prior to 1944, the SS General's title could become rather lengthy. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, for instance, was listed on the SS rolls in 1945 as "Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS".

enior SS Titles

In addition to the regular ranks of the SS, the SS also used a variety of titles which were commonly interchanged with ranks to denote senior levels of responsibility. Some of these titles included:

* "SS-Führer": Originally an early rank of the SS, the title of SS-Führer was commonly used by any SS officer and translated as “SS Leader”.
* "SS-Unterführer": This title was often used in the Waffen-SS by non-commissioned officers holding the rank of "Unterscharführer" and above. An enlisted SS soldier, applying for NCO status, was often known as an "Unterführer-Anwärter".
* "SD-Leiter": This title was used by senior officers of the Sicherheitsdienst, typically those in command of a major SD office or regional headquarters
* "Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer": Translated as Higher SS and Police Leader, these were some of the most powerful men in the SS, commanding all SS units in a given geographic region
* "Kriminalrat": A title used by the Kriminalpolizei to denote those SS members who were also fully certified detectives. Artur Nebe went by the title of Kriminalrat for most of the 1930s, only using addressing himself by an SS rank when engaged in non-Kripo activities.

Foreign Volunteers

As with the senior SS titles, volunteers of non-Germanic countries had the title "Waffen" prefixed to their rank. For instance, an "Untersturmführer" in the foreign legions would be referred to as "Waffen-Untersturmführer" whereas a regular SS member would be addressed as "SS-Untersturmführer". This helped to indicate non-native volunteers, or to separate Germanic individuals in the divisions comprised primarily of non Germans.

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler, as the Führer of Germany, was by default the supreme commander of the SS and outranked Heinrich Himmler, who served as “Reich Leader” of the entire SS. In the early days of the SS, Hitler was "Oberster SA-Führer" and supreme commander of the "Sturmabteilung" stormtroopers. Hitler’s supreme SA rank, when the SS was still under the authority of the SA, could be seen as a rank superior to that of "Reichsführer-SS". Hitler also was considered SS Member #1, Emil Maurice (considered the founder the SS) was Member #2, while Himmler was SS Member #168. Based on the seniority system of SS membership number, this made Hitler senior in the SS to all other members even if not by rank. After the Night of the Long Knives, when the SS became independent from the SA, Hitler was listed on SS officer rolls as Member #1 and considered supreme commander of the entire SS by virture of his position as the Führer of Germany. There is no photographic record of Hitler ever wearing an actual SS uniform nor was there a special SS insignia for Hitler above that worn by Himmler.

Additional information

* "Stabsscharführer" was a positional rank granted to the senior NCO of an SS Company. The position was the equivalent of a First Sergeant. Stabsscharführer was denoted by a special sleeve patch, worn on the upper right arm of the SS uniform.

* The rank of "Staffelführer" was also commonly referred to simply as "SS-Führer".

* The rank of "Sturmscharführer" was only used by the Waffen-SS.

* The rank of "Oberstgruppenführer" did not exist until 1942 and was originally created to give senior Waffen-SS Generals equivalent rank to Wehrmacht Colonel Generals. Only four people ever held the rank of "Oberstgruppenführer".

* SS officers holding the rank of "Standartenführer" and above wore rank insignia on both collar patches. All other SS members wore their rank on the left collar patch while an SS unit badge was worn on the right.

* SS had no standard dress uniforms unlike the Heer, so some SS officers occasionally wore custom designed mess dress with pre-1939 Allgemeine-SS rank insignia.

In popular culture

*In Harry Turtledove's Southern Victory series of alternate-history novels, the Confederate Freedom Party guards have rank names imitating those of the SS.
*In the Ian McKellen adaptation of Richard III, King Richard wears a paramilitary black uniform with the insignia of an "SS-Oberstgruppenführer".
* In the manga and OVA series Hellsing, the main antagonists are a group of SS soldiers, and they are referred to by German rank in the OVA IV liner notes.

ee also

* Ranks and insignia of the Sturmabteilung
* SS uniform
* Comparative military ranks of World War II
* List of SS personnel

References

* Bedurftig, Friedemann, and Christian Zenter. "The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich". 1985.
* Personnel Service Records of the S.S., National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland
*"Deutsche Uniformen", National Socialist German Workers Party, 1938

Notes


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