In early 1940, the regiment was expanded to an independent motorized infantry regiment, and an assault gun battery was added. After the Western campaign, it was expanded to brigade size. Despite this, it retained the designation as a regiment. Following an outstanding performance in Greece, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered it upgraded to division status. However, there was no time to refit the unit before launching Operation Barbarossa , the invasion of the Soviet Union, and so it remained the size of a reinforced brigade.
In late July 1942, severely understrength and completely exhausted from operations in Russia, the unit was pulled out of the line and sent to France to rebuild and join the newly formed SS Panzer Corps, where it was reformed as a panzergrenadier division.
Thanks to Himmler and Obergruppenführer (General) Paul Hausser, the SS Panzer Corps commander, the four SS panzergrenadier divisions—Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, Wiking, Das Reich, and Totenkopf—were organized to include a full panzer regiment rather than only a battalion as found in Army units. This meant that the SS panzergrenadier divisions were full-strength panzer divisions in terms of their complement of tanks.
Following the capitulation of Italy, the Leibstandarte engaged in several major counterinsurgency operations against Italian partisans. During its time in Italy, the Leibstandarte was reformed as a full panzer division and designated the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler .
SS Panzergrenadiers From Abroad
Waffen-SS grenadier or infantry divisions were mainly recruited outside Germany. One was formed from French recruits, two in Latvia, one in Estonia, one with Ukrainians, another from Soviet prisoners, and one of Italian Fascists. The latter two each held the designation as the 29th SS Grenadier Division at different times, the former Soviet prisoners in 1944 and the Italian Fascists in 1945. All of these divisions were created from 1943 to 1945.
Ukrainians, Latvians, Estonians, and Russian turncoats who joined the SS were executed if taken prisoner by the Soviets. Those found in the hands of the Western Allies after the war were returned to the Soviets to suffer the same fate. Waffen-SS prisoners taken by the Red Army seldom survived their initial capture or lengthy imprisonment in the Soviet Union.
Six SS mountain divisions were formed from Volksdeutsche. Three were short-lived units made up of Balkan Muslims, and one, which never exceeded regimental strength, was formed from Italian Fascists.
Eleven of the 12 SS panzergrenadier divisions were created or their designations were assigned from 1943 to 1945. Nine of the divisions were formed from Volksdeutsche and non-Germans, which included Dutch, Walloons, Belgians, and Hungarians, but many were never stronger than regimental strength.
Two SS Armies
Command formations during the war included two SS armies, the Sixth SS Panzer Army and the Eleventh SS Army. Of the 13 SS corps, four were panzer corps, two were mountain corps, and seven were infantry corps. Seven of these corps were not created until 1944.
The Sixth SS Panzer Army was created in the autumn of 1944 in northwestern Germany as the Sixth Panzer Army to oversee the refit of panzer divisions shattered during operations in France. It played a key role in the 1944 Ardennes offensive, then in Hungary in 1945, and finally in the fight for the Austrian capital of Vienna. The Eleventh SS Army was formed in February 1945. It operated in northern Germany until the end of the war.
One Waffen-SS division was designated the SS-Panzer Grenadier-Polizei Division. This was the only unit made up of members of the police that had been incorporated into the Waffen-SS. In addition, the 35th SS Police Grenadier Division was organized from German policemen in early 1945, although it only reached regimental strength.
Raising the Waffen-SS
In principle, the SS was to accept no new members after 1933, except from selected graduates of the Hitler Youth. However, the creation of the Waffen-SS and its rapid growth caused the partial suspension of this rule. However, service in the Waffen-SS did not necessarily include membership in the SS proper.
Prior to the war, suitable SS candidates were singled out while still in the Hitler Youth (HJ). Boys who had proved themselves, often under SS leadership, in the HJ patrol service were often tabbed for later SS service. If the candidate satisfied SS requirements in political reliability, racial purity, and physique, he was accepted as a candidate at the age of 18. At the annual Nazi Party Congress in September, candidates were accepted, received SS certificates, and were enrolled in the SS.
Service in the Waffen-SS was officially voluntary. The Waffen-SS claimed priority over all other branches of the armed forces in the selection of recruits. Eventually, to meet the high rate of casualties and the expansion of Waffen-SS field divisions, service in the Waffen-SS became compulsory for all members of the SS, and the voluntary transfer of personnel from any other branch of the armed forces was permitted. From 1943, pressure was exerted on members of the Hitler Youth to volunteer for the Waffen-SS. Later, entire Army, Navy, and Air Force units were taken over by the Waffen-SS, given SS training, and incorporated into field units. Waffen-SS enlistment drives in Germany were nearly continuous. Waffen-SS recruitment was regionally organized and controlled.