Equipment Quality of the Waffen-SS
By Christian Ankerstjerne
It is often asserted, in television documentaries and on Internet forums, that the Waffen-SS was better equipped than the German army. Such assertions are rarely backed up by reliable sources; rather, it is stated as common knowledge. Even though there is a vast amount of data available from which proper statistics can be derived, there does not seem to be anyone who has actually done so.
There can be several reasons why such data analysis has not been made. The deplorable level of research of many television documentaries aside, the most obvious answer is that the effort involved has not been considered worthwhile compared to the value gained from the knowledge.
Whether the Waffen-SS did receive better equipment is irrelevant to describing the events as they occurred. The main interest would be from those who wish to compare the theoretical fighting quality of the Waffen-SS and the German army. The interest in the Second World War of those who pursue this rather murky subject is generally more casual than the professional historian. Being so, they may not have the necessary information, nor the inclination, to research the matter themselves.
The subject is also somewhat controversial. The atrocities of the Waffen-SS are well-known, and tend to prevent objective research. Any conclusion from a comparison between the equipment of the Waffen-SS and the German army can be used by those who wish to propagate their view that the Waffen-SS themselves were superior.
If the Waffen-SS did have superior equipment, an argument could be made that this was because the Waffen-SS itself was superior, prompting the allocation of the best equipment to the best soldiers. If the Waffen-SS had inferior equipment, as argument could be made that the Waffen-SS managed to get by despite their inferior equipment, proving their superior quality. Both arguments can easily be countered, however. If the Waffen-SS did have superior equipment, this could just as well be because better equipment was issued to make up for inferior fighting ability. If the Waffen-SS had inferior equipment, it could be argued that the Waffen-SS itself was inferior, and that the worst soldiers received the equipment left over after equipping better units.
Since the arguments are merely inversions of each other, they are of equal quality. Without documentation for any direct orders documenting one of them, using the quality of the equipment to prove anything about the fighting ability of the Waffen-SS would be illogical. This article does not make any claims about the results. The data is presented, with explanations as required, but serves no other purpose than to address the original assertion.
There are two ways in which the Waffen-SS might have been favored: A greater authorized strength, or a greater allocated strength. If the assertion that the Waffen-SS received better equipment is to be proven, focus must be on the latter. As the German industrial situation deteriorated from 1943 onwards, however, the intended strength of the units is also an important indicator. Furthermore, allocations by themselves prove little, as a large allocation of vehicles to a given unit should be expected, if that unit is about to take part in a major offensive, or if it has experienced heavy losses.
Comparing the equipment of the Waffen-SS and the German army is tricky. The vast amount of equipment types and the time scale both presents quantifiable obstacles. The quality of the individual is a less quantifiable one. To make the comparison manageable, the type of equipment will be limited to armored vehicles. This will also impose some limitations on the time scale.
Armored Units, Western Front, Late-1944
The Waffen-SS and the army are authorized almost the same number of armored vehicles in both the tank divisions and the armored infantry divisions. The vehicles authorized for the army's are, however, of a higher quality; Panther and Pz Kpfw IV, rather than assault guns and Jagdpanzer IV.
|Branch||Pz Kpfw IV||Panther||Tiger||Assault guns||Jagdpanzer 38||Jagdpanzer IV||Jagdpanther||Jagdtiger||Nashorn||Total|
|Army tank divisions:
|Waffen-SS tank divisions:
|Army armored infantry divisions:
|Waffen-SS armored infantry divisions:
Allocation of New Weapons
Considering Hitler's fascination with new weapons, and his overconfidence in their qualities, it would be reasonable to expect that favoritism for the Waffen-SS would see them receiving such new weapons first. Yet, the German army consistently received new weapons before the Waffen-SS.
The armored vehicles listed below are a partial list of the vehicle which were first given to the German army, even though the Waffen-SS having armored units at the time:
- Tiger I
- Tiger II
The Panther were first assigned to Panzer-Regiment 39 for the Battle of Kursk Unternehmen Zitadelle, during which it was assigned to Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland. In the time following the termination of the operation, allocation of Panther continued to favor the army:
Despite a fairly limited production number, the Jagdpanther was one of the most potent tank destroyers in the German arsenal. It would therefore be natural that, had the Waffen-SS been favored over the German army, the Waffen-SS would have received a disproportionate number of Jagdpanther.
|Branch||Heavy Independent Anti-tank Battalions||Tank Regiments||Miscellaneous Units||Total|
It is self-evident from the table above that the Waffen-SS was in no way favored over the army in the allocation of Jagdpanthers. While the lack of Waffen-SS schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilungen (heavy independent anti-tank battalions) meant that the Waffen-SS would not be eligible for as many Jagdpanther, this is in no way an argument in support of favoritism of the Waffen-SS. Aside from the obvious fact that the lack of such heavy independent anti-tank battalions in itself is an argument against favoritism, the allocation of Jagdpanther to armored regiments still greatly favor the army.
Like the Panther, the Ferdinand was one of the new weapons that Hitler hoped would help win the Unternehmen Zitadelle. Assigned to two army units, the schwere Heeres Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 653 and schwere Heeres Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 654, the Ferdinand continued to serve exclusively with army units on the Eastern Front, and later in Italy.
The Jagdtiger was given to two army units; the schwere Heeres Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653, formerly equipped with the Ferdinand, and schwere Heeres Panzerjäger-Abteilung 512. Although schwere Heeres Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 was initially assigned to 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division and later 10. SS-Panzer-Division, during its first month of combat, both it and schwere Heeres Panzerjäger-Abteilung 512 was manned by army personnel throughout the units' actions.
Tiger II Allocation
In the table below, re-named units have been merged into one. Only those heavy tank battalions that received a significant number of Tiger II have been included. When Tiger II were given to a different unit than the one it was originally allocated to, the unit that actually received the Tiger II is used, the effect of which is an increase in Army Tiger II of six, and an increase in Waffen-SS Tiger II of 11.
|Branch||1944 Allocation||Tiger Strength, End 1944||1945 Allocation||Total|
|Army average of:
|Waffen-SS average of:
It is clear the the army units on average received more Tiger II, and did so earlier. On the other hand, the Waffen-SS did receive more Tiger II in 1945. As can be seen, however, the army units on average were almost fully equipped, which would explain the low allocation in 1945; if a unit still had a full or near-full contingent of Tiger, it would be odd to send further Tiger II to that unit.
Motorized Infantry Divisions, Mid-1942
The number of vehicles with each division is almost the same, but the quality of the equipment heavily favors the Army, with the much more powerful long-barreled Pz Kpfw III and Pz Kpfw IV. It should be noted that the numbers are based on only one Waffen-SS division.
|Unit||Pz Kpfw II||Pz Kpfw III kz||Pz Kpfw III lg||Pz Kpfw IV kz||Pz Kpfw IV lg||Pz Bef Wg|
|Army average of:
|SS-Division (mot) Wiking||12.0||12.0||24.0||4.0||-||1.0|
Being one of the largest campaigns after Waffen-SS divisions had significant armor components, the Battle of Kursk cannot be overlooked in this comparison. It is, however, also quite murky, for a number of reasons:
- The battle was divided into two pincers, of which only the southern pincer, Armeegruppe Süd, had Waffen-SS division. Comparing the Waffen-SS divisions of the southern pincer with the army divisions of the northern pincer would not take into account the different tactical situations of the two pincers.
- There were a total of six armored divisions, five army and one Waffen-SS, in reserve. Being in reserve, the number of tanks in these units varies widely, from the strong 4. Panzer-Division and 5. Panzer-Division, to the rather weak 8. Panzer-Division and 5. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division
- The allocation of Tiger was handled in different ways between the army and Waffen-SS divisions. At this time, the Waffen-SS had permanently attached Tiger companies. The army, with the notable exception of Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, relied on temporary attachment of the independent Tiger battalions. During the Battle of Kursk, the three companies of Panzer-Abteilung 503, with 15 Tiger each, were distributed between the three divisions of III. Panzer-Korps.
- Panzer-Regiment 39, with its 200 Panther, was assigned to Großdeutschland. This made Großdeutschland the only division with two tank regiments.
To solve the above difficulties, the following choices have been made in preparing the numbers:
- Only divisions of Armeegruppe Süd will be included. This will favor the army in the comparison, as the divisions in Armeegruppe Center on average had fewer tanks. Since this is still true when comparing only the army divisions, however, the exclusion is reasonable.
- The reserve divisions are excluded. This will favor the Waffen-SS, as the only Waffen-SS division in reserve was Wiking, which had quite few tanks (46, of which 38 were modern designs), compared to the army reserve divisions (93, of which 75 were modern designs).
- The Tigers of Panzer-Abteilung 503 will be included in the vehicle count for the III. Panzer-Korps; 6. Panzer-Division, 7. Panzer-Division, and 19. Panzer-Division. This will favor the army in the comparison, however not including them would favor the Waffen-SS for having a different unit structure.
- Panzer-Regiment 39 is included with Großdeutschland, but Großdeutschland is at the same time counted as two divisions, making it statistically neutral.
|Branch||Obsolete tanks||Modern tanks||Auxiliary||Total|
|Pz II||Pz III kz||Pz IV kz||Pz III (7,5)||Pz III lg||Pz IV lg||T-34||Panther||Tiger||Bef Pz||Pz III Fl||Beob Pz III|
It is evident that the Waffen-SS had a significantly larger number of modern Pz Kpfw III and Pz Kpfw IV than the army. On the other hand, the Panther assigned to the army makes up for the smaller number of Pz Kpfw IV. Likewise, the number of Tiger favors the Waffen-SS, as some of the army divisions didn't have Tiger companies. The differences are not great, however, and the allocation of Panther to Großdeutschland largely makes up for the slightly larger numbers of Tiger and modern Pz Kpfw III with the Waffen-SS.
Armored halftrack strength, December 1943
German Army tank divisions had four infantry battalions divided into two regiments. One of these four battalions was equipped with armored half-tracks, while the other three were equipped with trucks. By contrast, the Army's Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, the Air Force's Fallschirm-Panzer-Division Herrmann Göring, and the seven tank divisions of the Waffen-SS had six infantry battalions, five of which were equipped with trucks.
In a 8 February 1944 document, the Officer of Armor with the German Army Chief of Staff commented on the possibility of equipping a second battalion of Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland with armored half-tracks. After pointing out that the production of armored half-tracks is only barely able to keep up with the losses, the following comment is made:
Since the armoring of a second infantry battalion of "Groß-Deutschland" will inevitably require armoring a second battalion of the "Herrmann Göring" tank division and the seven SS tank divisions, the armoring of the second battalion of "Groß-Deutschland" must now be rejected under any circumstances. It would postpone the long-promised and urgently needed full armoring of a battalion of a majority of the tank divisions for the foreseeable future.
This argument indicates a preference to bring all the tank divisions of the German armed forces up to an equal strength of armored halftracks, rather than favoring the divisions with more infantry battalions. This can also be seen from the authorized and actual armored half-track strength of the tank divisions cited in the document, which is very similar for the Army and Waffen-SS:
|Branch||Status||Sd Kfz 250||Sd Kfz 251|
Eventually, Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland was authorized a second armored half-track infantry battalion, was in the process of reorganization on 1 June 1944. The Air Forces and Waffen-SS tank divisions didn't received a second armored half-track infantry battalion.
While many German divisions were involved in the German Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein, two armies were responsible for reaching the main objective; Antwerp. These were 5. Armee, attacking from the south, and 6. Armee, attacking from the north. The armored units of these armies were:
|5. Armee||XXXXVII. Panzerkorps||2. Panzer-Division||-|
|LVIII. Panzerkorps||116. Panzer-Division||-|
|6. Armee||I. SS-Panzerkorps||1. SS-Panzer-Division||
|II. SS-Panzerkorps||2. SS-Panzer-Division||-|
In the comparison below, 15. Panzergrenadier-Division will not be included, as there are no Waffen-SS armored infantry divisions to compare it to, and unlike during Kursk, the armored infantry divisions of late 1944 did not field a full armored regiment.
|Branch||Tanks||Tank Destroyers||Assault Guns||Anti-aircraft Tanks||Self-propelled Artillery|
|Pz Kpfw IV||Panther||Tiger II||Marder II||Jagdpanzer IV||Pz IV/70||Jagdpanther||Sturmgeschütz||Sturmhaubitze 42||Flakpz. 38||Wirbelwind||Möbelwagen||Wespe||Hummel||Grille|
It is evident that there is no clear evidence of favoritism between the army and the Waffen-SS. While the number of Tiger II is higher for the Waffen-SS than the army, on account of the attachment of the army-manned schwere Heeres Panzer-Abteilung 506, the army had more Panther. Overall, the army had slightly more armored vehicles, but the difference is not statistically significant.
Although it is not possible to point to repeated favoritism of the German army over the Waffen-SS in the allocation of armored vehicles, it should be evident from the data above that the opposite was in no way true. While it would no doubt be possible to find specific instances where the Waffen-SS did have more or better equipment than the army, there is no evidence to support that this was a general trend. In fact, the numbers point towards a trend of issuing new equipment to the army first, while the Waffen-SS sometimes had to wait several months to receive such equipment.
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