Equipment Quality of the Waffen-SS

By Christian Ankerstjerne

The Waffen-SS divisions are often claimed to have received more, better, and newer equipment than their Army counterparts. This is rarely backed up by actual numbers, however. By going through the allocation of tanks to both Waffen-SS and Army divisions, it is clear that the Waffen-SS did not receive preferential treatment. In fact, as a rule, the German Army received the newest equipment, and usually more of it as well.

Introduction

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.

Method

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.

Authorized Strength

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; Panthers and Pz Kpfw IVs, rather than assault guns and Jagdpanzer IVs.

Unit Type Branch Pz Kpfw IV Panther Tigers Sturmgeschütze Jagdpanzer 38 Jagdpanzer IV Jagdpanther Jagdtiger Nashorn Total
Tank divisions Army average1 36.0 52.7 - 9.3 - 21.0 - - - 119.0
Waffen-SS average2 32.4 46.8 - 11.2 - 21.0 - - - 111.4
Armored infantry divisions Army average3 3.7 12.0 - 40.3 - 20.7 - - - 76.7
Waffen-SS average4 - - - 45.0 - 31.0 - - - 76.0

Actual Allocation

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:

Panther Allocation

Panthers were first assigned to Panzer-Regiment 39 for Unternehmen Zitadelle, during which it was assigned to Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland. In the time following Zitadelle's termination, allocation of Panthers continued to favor the army:

Panthers assigned to units on the Eastern Front, up to 1 October 1943.
Unit Number assigned
Panzer-Regiment 39 200
I./2. Panzer-Regiment 74
I./23. Panzer-Regiment 96
I./26. Panzer-Regiment 78
SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Das Reich" 96
Reserves 1255

Jagdpanther Allocation

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 Jagdpanthers.

Distribution of Jagdpanthers to combat units by branch and unit type.
Branch Heavy Independent Anti-tank Battalions Tank Regiments Miscellaneous Units Total
Army 268 100 5 373
Waffen-SS 0 20 17 37

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 Jagdpanthers, 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.

Ferdinand Allocation

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.

Jagdtiger Allocation

The Jagdtiger was given to two army units; the schwere Heeres Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653, formerly equipped with Ferdinands, and schwere Heeres Panzerjäger-Abteilung 512. Although s. Pz. Jäg. Abt. 653 was initially assigned to 17. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division and later 10. SS-Panzer-Division, during its first month of combat, both it and s. Pz. Jäg. Abt. 512 was manned by army personnel throughout the units' actions.

Tiger II Allocation

Re-named units have been merged into one. Only those heavy tank battalions that received a significant number of Tiger IIs have been included. When Tiger IIs were given to a different unit than the one it was originally allocated to, the unit that actually received the Tiger IIs is used, the effect of which is an increase in Army Tiger IIs of six, and an increase in Waffen-SS Tiger IIs of 11.

Branch 1944 Allocation Tiger Strength, End 1944 1945 Allocation Total
Army average6 43.5 42.3 6.5 50.0
Waffen-SS average7 23.0 15.3 20.3 43.3

It is clear the the army units on average received more Tiger IIs, and did so earlier. On the other hand, the Waffen-SS did receive more Tiger IIs 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 Tigers, it would be odd to send further Tiger IIs to that unit.

Actual Strength

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.

Branch Pz Kpfw II Pz Kpfw III kz Pz Kpfw III lg Pz Kpfw IV kz Pz Kpfw IV lg Pz Bef Wg
Army average8 12.3 - 35.3 - 7.0 1.3
Waffen-SS average9 12.0 12.0 24.0 4.0 - 1.0

Kursk, 1943

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:

To solve the above difficulties, the following choices have been made in preparing the numbers:

Average number of tanks of the German army and the Waffen-SS of Armeegruppe Süd front-line units on 30 June 1943.
Branch Obsolete Modern Pz III Pz IV lg T-34 Panther Tiger Bef Pz Auxiliary Total
Pz II Pz III kz Pz IV kz Pz III (7,5) Pz III lg Pz III Fl Beob Pz III
Army10 6.6 3.6 1.6 8.6 29.1 30.6 0.0 28.6 8.6 4.1 5.9 2.7 130.4
Waffen-SS11 1.7 1.0 2.7 0.0 45.0 48.0 8.3 0.0 14.0 9.3 0.0 6.0 136.0

It is evident that the Waffen-SS had a significantly larger number of modern Pz Kpfw IIIs and Pz Kpfw IVs than the army. On the other hand, the Panthers assigned to the army makes up for the smaller number of Pz Kpfw IVs. Likewise, the number of Tigers 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 Panthers to Großdeutschland largely makes up for the slightly larger numbers of Tigers and modern Pz Kpfw IIIs with the Waffen-SS.

Ardennes, 1944

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:

Army Corps Division Detachments
5. Armee XXXXVII. Panzerkorps 2. Panzer-Division -
9. Panzer-Division
  • 301. schwere Panzer-Abteilung (Funklenk)
Panzer-Lehr-Division
  • 559. schwere Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung
  • 243. Sturmgeschütz-Brigade
15. Panzer-Grenadier-Division -
LVIII. Panzerkorps 116. Panzer-Division -
6. Armee I. SS-Panzerkorps 1. SS-Panzer-Division
  • 501. schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung
12. SS-Panzer-Division
  • 506. schwere Heeres Panzer-Abteilung
II. SS-Panzerkorps 2. SS-Panzer-Division -
9. SS-Panzer-Division
  • 519. schwere Heeres Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung

In the comparison below, 15. Panzer-Grenadier-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.

Average strength of the armored divisions participating in the main thrust of the Ardennes offensive, including temporary detachments.
Branch Tanks Tank Destroyers Assault Guns Anti-aircraft Tanks Self-propelled Artillery
Pz IV Panther Tiger II Marder II Jagdpanzer IV Pz IV/70 Jagdpanther Stu-Gesch. Stu H 42 Flakpz. 38 Wirbelwind Möbelwagen Wespe Hummel Grille
Army 26.0 48.0 7.8 0.0 7.5 11.0 3.0 23.0 4.0 0.8 3.5 4.8 1.3 2.0 0.3
Waffen-SS 35.0 37.0 22.0 5.0 0.0 13.0 1.0 14.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 5.0 0.0 2.8 0.8

It is evident that there is no clear evidence of favoritism between the army and the Waffen-SS. While the number of Tiger IIs is higher for the Waffen-SS than the army, on account of the attachment of the army-manned 506. s. H. Pz. Abt., the army had more Panthers. Overall, the army had slightly more armored vehicles, but the difference is not statistically significant.

Conclusion

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.

Notes

  1. 2., 9., 11., 21., 116., and Panzer-Lehr-Division. Back.
  2. 1., 2., 9., 10., and 12. SS-Panzer-Division. Back.
  3. 3., 15., and 25. Panzer-Grenadier-Division Back.
  4. 17. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division. Back.
  5. Including nine Bergepanther. Back.
  6. Schwere Heeres Panzer-Abteilung 501 (later 424), 503 (later Feldherrnhalle), 505, 506, 507, and 509. Back.
  7. Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501 (formerly 101), 502, and 503. Back.
  8. 3., 16., 29., and 60. Infanterie-Division (mot). Back.
  9. SS-Division (mot) Wiking. Back.
  10. 3., 6., 7., 11., and 19. Panzer-Division, and Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Großdeutschland". Back.
  11. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division LSSAH, Das Reich, and Totenkopf. Back.

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