Uniforms, ranks, rank badges and special insignias of foreign volunteers and formations of the Waffen-SS during the Second World War.
Uniforms of the Waffen-SS
The prewar uniform of the SS was black, but already in 1935 a gray uniform for official use began to appear.
At first Himmler wanted to have a special field uniform designed for the Waffen-SS, but the more the members of the SS came under the influence of the army’s training program and were equipped by it, the more they wanted to look like real soldiers.
On the field gray uniform the men of the Waffen-SS wore the SS badge – a national coat of arms over a skull -, SS rank badge on the left collar piece and an army rank badge on the shoulder pieces.
On the right collar piece they wore a unit symbol (either SS rune or a skull), while on the left sleeve cuff they had a narrow black ribbon with silver edges embroidered with the name of the unit, formation or decoration.
Another distinctive feature of the Waffen-SS uniform was the wearing of a field blouse open at the neck with a brown (later field-gray) shirt and black tie.
Even before the outbreak of the war, the Waffen-SS began developing light clothing to be worn by its assault units, together with camouflage clothing.
After initial difficulties in producing sufficient quantities of camouflage clothing, covers for helmets and shirts with camouflage patterns were issued in limited quantities (see photo at the top).
During the war these camouflage patterns were widely used and became an unmistakable symbol of recognition for soldiers of the Waffen-SS.
Rank Badge of the Waffen-SS
The insignia were worn by all ranks of the Waffen-SS up to the Lieutenant Colonel (Obersturmbannführer) on the left collar piece. Officers from the rank of colonel had rank insignia on both collar pieces.
On the shoulders, on the other hand, they wore the corresponding insignia of rank of the army. On uniforms without shoulder pieces (e.g. camouflage suits) the soldiers wore the new army and Waffen-SS rank badges on both sleeves.
According to SS regulations, officers had white cords on their headgear, including the side caps. Officers in the general’s rank had them in silver. SS generals had gray lapel on the coat.
The color of arms was indicated on cords on the shoulders and on the badge of rank on the front of the side cap at the beginning of the war.
Some officers and men swore colored cords on their caps, which was not official. According to the regulations, the cords on the cap and long trousers were always white and not in the color of the arms.
Waffen-SS members with special training or special tasks wore a diamond-shaped badge on the left cuff.
Ranks of the Waffen-SS
|Waffen-SS||German Army||in English|
|SS-Oberstgruppenführer, General der Waffen-SS||Generaloberst||General (I)|
|SS-Obergruppenführer, General der Waffen-SS||General der Infanterie usw.||General (II)|
|SS-Gruppenführer, Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS||Generalleutnant||Lieutenant-General|
|SS-Brigadeführer, Generalmajor der Waffen-SS||Generalmajor||Major-General|
|SS-Oberführer||(not used in Army; Brigade-General)||Brigadier|
|SS-Oberschütze||Oberschütze||Private 1st Class|
Norwegian members of the Waffen-SS
In June 1941, the SS began the formation of an army of Norwegian volunteers from two battalions, which became the Norwegian Volunteer Legion.
At the beginning of 1943 it was decided to establish a new ‘Germanic’ division, which was called Nordland. In this unit Danes and Norwegians should serve together with Dutch.
In total, however, only about 2,000 Norwegians served in the Nordland Division, which was only a small proportion of the approximately 30,000 Norwegians who were deployed in military or para-military formations under German supervision during the Second World War.
Uniform: Originally, the first Norwegian volunteers in the Waffen-SS used the field gray standard uniform with a Norwegian flag on the left sleeve.
Later the Norwegian lion appeared on the right collar, although the SS runes were still widely worn. The flag was replaced by a shield-shaped coat of arms in the Norwegian national colors and on the left sleeve members of the Legion (but not the companies, which were made up of Norwegian police officers) wore a cuff with the inscription ‘Frw. Legion Norwegen’.
When the legion was dissolved and a regiment of the division ‘Nordland’ was formed from it, the regimental cuff band ‘Norge’ (Norway) was written on it.
Danish members of the Waffen-SS
Denmark’s military collaboration began with the deployment of Danish volunteers in the SS regiments of ‘Nordwest’ and ‘Nordland’.
In early 1941 it was estimated that about 200 Danes served with the Waffen-SS. In June 1941 the recruitment of the Danish Volunteer Legion began, which was sent to the northern section of the Eastern Front after basic training.
The ‘Danish Freikorps’, as it was called, fought outstandingly and suffered heavy losses. In March 1943 the crushed ‘Freikorps’ was transferred to Germany and dissolved on 6 May 1943.
Many Danes joined a new Danish regiment, which became part of the ‘Nordland’ division. This unity fought in Yugoslavia in the Balkans and on the Eastern Front.
Uniform: The Danish Waffen SS uniform had SS insignia with a sign in the Danish national colors on the left sleeve. Alternatively, a Danebrog was worn on the right collar piece. On the left cuff they wore a black cuff with the inscription ‘Freikorps Danmark’ in silver letters.
Dutch members of the Waffen-SS
The recruitment of Dutchmen began with the establishment of the ‘Niederlande’ foreign legion. This was organized and expanded into two regiments, which became a brigade. As a force of about 5,500 men, this unit fought in Croatia from the end of 1943.
In December 1944 they were transferred to the actual Eastern Front and called the ‘Nederland’ Division.
Uniform: The Dutch Waffen SS volunteers wore the Waffen-SS uniforms with Dutch national badges on the collar, sleeves and left cuff.
The first badges were still made by the Dutch and consisted of an emblem of the Dutch National Party on the right collar piece, the ‘Wolfshaken’, a shield-shaped or rectangular badge in the Dutch national colors on the left sleeve and a cuff ribbon with the inscription ‘Legion Nederland’ in white letters.
Later these Dutch badges were replaced by regular badges of the Waffen-SS. The ‘wolf hook’ on the collar piece was attached horizontally instead of vertically as before, the shield badges corresponded to the usual SS standards and the cuff ribbon carried the inscription ‘Frw.Legion Niederlande’.
Belgian members of the Waffen-SS
On 8 August 1941, the first group of Belgian volunteers, all from Wallonia, left Brussels for training in Poland. This contingent of 1,000 men became the Infantry Battalion 373. On the Eastern front, they were first deployed alongside Romanian units before being transferred to the German 100th Jaeger Division.
In June 1943 the ‘Walloon Legion’ was transferred to the Waffen-SS and was called the ‘SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonien’. Thereafter, they continued to serve on the Eastern Front within the SS Division Wiking.
The Belgians fought in several desperate, lossy battles, especially at Cherkassy in 1943 and the Narwa in 1944.
Uniform: On the German army uniform the Belgians initially wore a badge in the Belgian national colors. In the Waffen-SS the three army badges were still used and since the Belgians carried the SS runes on the right collar piece, the only Belgian SS badge was the cuff ribbon ‘Wallonia’ which was worn on the left sleeve cuff.
French members of the Waffen-SS
From 1943, Frenchmen of pure Aryan descent between the ages of 20 and 25 were admitted to the Waffen-SS and recruitment for a French SS regiment began.
In July 1944, this regiment of 1,688 men was called the ‘French SS Volunteer Assault Brigade’ and sent to the Eastern Front in Galicia. There, the unit suffered heavy losses in the fierce fighting and was pulled out of the front line and transferred to Gdansk.
In Gdansk, the survivors were merged with the French of the disbanded army regiment LVF and now formed the Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade of the Waffen-SS Charlemagne. The brigade was transferred to Wildflecken for training and when other former French collaborators who had fled France from the Allies joined the brigade, it was decided to call the unit the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne.
Uniform: The French, who served in the Waffen-SS, wore the standard uniform of the Waffen-SS with the tricolore on a shield-shaped badge on the lower left sleeve.
Although special ‘Charlemgane’ collar pieces and machine tapes were planned, but they were never issued.
Baltic members of the Waffen-SS
In the summer of 1942, the Waffen-SS began the formation of an Estonian legion consisting of 37 officers, 175 non-commissioned officers and 757 men in March 1943.
In May 1943 this legion became a brigade, and in January 1944 a division. From February to September 1944, this division fought on the northern section of the Eastern Front.
In August 1941, the Wehrmacht began recruiting Latvians for auxiliary police battalions, of which there were more than 40 by 1944. These battalions were called ‘Schutzmannschaften’ (‘protection crews’).
On 10 February 1943 Hitler then ordered the establishment of a Latvian volunteer legion and almost immediately the establishment of two Waffen-SS divisions from Latvia was begun. These were later referred to as the 15th and 19th Waffen-SS Grenadier Divisions.
Both divisions had three grenadier regiments and an artillery regiment as well as support units, which resulted in a total strength of about 15,000 men. From October 1943, these divisions formed the VI SS Corps with another Grenadier regiment.
Uniform: Estonians in the Waffen SS wore the usual field gray uniform with Estonian national colors in the form of a shield-shaped badge on the left sleeve.
Latvians in the German Auxiliary Police battalions first used original Latvian uniforms with a green sleeve band, but these were gradually replaced by German police uniforms, which were initially decorated with Latvian and later German police badges. Latvians had a shield-shaped badge in the Latvian national colors on the left or right sleeve.
The ‘Latvian Legion’ wore Waffen-SS uniforms with the Latvian shield badge on their sleeves. Members of the 15th SS Division wore the original Latvian army badge with the sun breakthrough and stars, while those of the 19th SS Division wore the swastika on their right collar.
Croatian members of the Waffen-SS
On March 1, 1943, Hitler ordered the formation of the 13th Waffen SS Volunteer Division. This was to be recruited by Muslims in Croatia, who were known to be the traditional enemies of Christian Serbs. The Serbs formed the majority of Tito’s Yugoslav partisans.
This was the first SS division recruited from non-Arians. In the beginning there were many volunteers, but later it became necessary to recruit men. The division was deployed against Tito’s partisans in 1944 as part of the V SS Mountains Corps, to which the SS division Prinz Eugen also belonged.
In June 1944 the establishment of a second Muslim division, the 23rd Waffengebirgs-Division of the SS Kama (Croatian No. 2) was started. This consisted of eight to nine thousand Muslims and ethnic Germans. But the division turned out to be unreliable and was dissolved in autumn 1944.