Leibstandarte Schutzstaffel Adolf Hitler
By Phil GardockiDisclaimer: This article is about the military history and organization of the SS, short for Schutz Staffel, or Defense Squad unit Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, the Standard Bearers of Adolf Hitler or 1st SS. It is not going to go into all the atrocities committed by the SS, the 1st SS included. That these atrocities occurred is a matter of historical record, and includes the willing participation of genocide of the Jewish people, as well as many cultures of Eastern European descent.
In 1933, LSSAH was created by merging two SS companies, Zossen and Jütenbog. LSSAH was gradually expanded and participated in the Polish Campaign as a reinforced regiment of 4 infantry battalions and supporting companies. Tactically it was deployed as attachment to the 17th Infantry Division and then the 4th Panzer Division. It fought well, but sustained high casualties.
For the campaign in France LSSAH had expanded to include an artillery battalion, and a Sturmegeschütz company.
Over the next year, LSSAH was expanded first to a brigade, and then to a motorized division. At the start of the Russian campaign LSSAH was called a division, even though it was organizationally a large brigade, with a single, if large Infantry Regiment, supported by a small Artillery Regiment, and an impressive number of support battalions.
The normal German practice of refitting and reorganization of a unit required a unit to be pulled out of combat and a period of training to acclimate to new units, tactics, and men. The SS did not seem to follow this pattern, and constantly received new companies and battalions. In July 1942, the Infantry Regiment was split into two. This created what was on paper to be a more normal organization for a standard Motorized Division, but at all levels each component had superior equipment levels.
As an example, the Infantry Battalions were all 5 companies, instead of 4, and included some of the still uncommon 5cm antitank guns. The regiments had self propelled Flak guns, and Jagdpanzers. The Artillery Regiment had 4 battalions, instead of 3 normally found in motorized divisions. Extra support battalions included a Panzer Battalion, a six company Flak Battalion and a three company Sturmgeschutz Battalion. The Panzerjager Battalion was upgraded with Marder II's.
After the summer campaign season LSSAH received further upgrades. The Panzer Battalion, which only had half strength companies, was expanded to a full strength Panzer Regiment, including a company of Tigers. While LSSAH was referred to as a Panzer Grenadier Division, it was in fact an over sized Panzer Division.
In anticipation of Operation Citadel, LSSAH went through further changes. Pieces of the division were transferred to form the Cadre for the new 12th SS Panzer Division, but the deficit was made up with newly raised formations. The Artillery Regiment received Hummels and Wespes, while the Infantry Regiments received Bisons. LSSAH technically had Panthers in its TOE, but the Panthers were still in Austria during the Kursk offensive and the division did not pick them up until it was transferred to Italy.
| Full Strength / Strength at Kursk|
After Kursk, LSSAH left behind most of its equipment and was refitted in Austria and Italy with both newly built, or recently repaired equipment. The pattern of favorable upgrades continued, with a new flak battery, and the artillery being expanded with more 15cm and 21cm Nebelwerfers.
But even the SS couldn't ignore the irreplaceable casualties they were sustaining. While refitting in Belgium, Heavy Grenadier companies were being disbanded, their numbers being partially made up with equipment upgrades. With the final refit after the Falaise pocket, LSSAH was upgraded with Whirlwinds and Jagdpanzer IV's, but lost half of its reconnaissance battalion. Even so at this time, any numbers here are pure fiction.
LSSAH, or Leibstandarte Schutzstaffel Adolf Hitler, had one of the longest histories of any unit that Germany fielded in WWII. This is phrased this way because at no time was any SS unit actually part of the Wehrmacht; though the SS often had first pick of men and material at the expense of the Wehrmacht.
From 1934 to 1939, LSSAH, was used to brutally suppress all dissent and competition to the Nazi party, including the famous "The Night of the Long Knives", in which it destroyed a competing force of Stürmabteilung, otherwise known as SA, or Storm Battalion.
As a reinforced Regiment, LSSAH rode to war in Operation White, the assault on Poland, as part of the southern pincer first assigned 17th Infantry Division and then the 4th Panzer Division. The end of the campaign found LSSAH near Warsaw.
During 1940, LSSAH was assigned to Holland, with the task of linking up with the General Student's Fallschirmjagers (paratroopers). The contact led to a "friendly fire" incident, nearly killing him. Later, LSSAH was re-assigned to Army Group B and took part in the reduction of Dunkirk.
After the campaign in France, LSSAH was assigned to Army Group South as part of 1st Panzer Army in 1941, where it first fought in Yugoslavia and Greece. During the Balkans campaign LSSAH preformed well, capturing a critical mountain pass that led to the surrender of the Greek Army.
LSSAH was sent to Prague for another period of refit, and accrued manpower in excess of 10,000 men before being shipped to the border of southern Russia. There it conducted operations along the Black Sea, leading to the encirclement of Kiev and the assault on the Crimean.
In 1942, LSSAH was wrecked in the Soviet winter offensive around Rostov. Despite taking over 22,000 casualties since June, 1941, it was kept in the line. Despite this decrepit state, LSSAH was used in the early stages of the summer offensive, before it was transferred to France for refit and reorganization. In response to the Allied invasion in North Africa, LSSAH occupied Vichy France.
January, 1943 found Army Group 'A' and 'B' in desperate plight, and even though the refit of LSSAH was not completed, it was hurriedly shipped back to southern Russia for the third battle of Kharkov. Throughout February and March, it fought a mobile defensive action, eventually losing, then regaining the city in a series of encirclements and breakthroughs.
Before Operation Citadel, the assault on the Kursk salient, LSSAH was again refitted and upgraded with over 130 panzers and assault guns. By all accounts, it performed extremely well. However eight days later less than 80 armored fighting vehicles remained in action, it had reached the high watermark of Operation Citadel. The Red Army threw the 3rd Mechanized Corps from 5th Guards Tank Army reserve and the 31st Tank Corps at LSSAH, at Prokhorovka. LSSAH nominally won the action, with losses amounting to 84 men killed, 384 wounded. Whereas, General of the Army Vatutin, Commander of the Voronezh Front claimed 332 panzers were destroyed.
Following Kursk, LSSAH was withdrawn to Austria for refit, leaving most of its heavy equipment behind, which was divided between the remaining members of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps. Reequipped in Austria LSSAH was sent to Italy to stabilize the German control of Italy. Even though one of the premier divisions of Germany was in Italy, it was never deployed against the invading Allied American and British forces.
Upgraded to a full Panzer Division, LSSAH was sent back to Russia in November, where the division was assigned to 4 Panzer Army, 48th Panzer Corps and in November, 1943, fought in actions that stopped the 5th Guards Tank Army from achieving a breakthrough. The winter defensive battles never ceased, and collimated in a relief counterattack, along with the 1st, 16th and the 11th Panzer Divisions, into the Korsun Pocket to free some 50,000 encircled soldiers. Despite the efforts of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army with some of the new heavy JS-II's and the 6th Tank Army to maintain the encirclement, some 35,000 Germans and Auxiliaries were rescued.
After the Korsun Pocket relief, most of LSSAH was withdrawn to Belgium for another refit. Brought mostly up to strength, LSSAH was committed to battle against the British in July, 1944. After enduring hours of bombardment by over 2,000 aircraft, LSSAH attacked the British near Caen, and destroyed over 100 tanks. The British however kept up the pressure, and while LSSAH was delivering disproportionate losses, its equipment, manpower, and supplies were attrited to the point where it needed to withdrawal, but instead was ordered to continue attacking. Despite heavy fighting LSSAH advanced only to be trapped in the Falaise pocket. LSSAH did not break out so much as filtered out, with all the heavy equipment being captured or destroyed.
Rebuilt to a strength of 215 tanks, among them the massive King Tiger, 1st SS fought in Operation "Autumn Mist", aka "The Battle of the Bulge" where its armor was reduced to 30 vehicles due to a combination of casualties and fuel shortages.
In January, 1945 the 6th SS Panzer Army, LSSAH included, was withdrawn from the West Front to counterattack Soviet forces in Hungary, with the objective to retake Budapest. The entire army was cut off, but for a narrow corridor held open by LSSAH. Having failed to achieve its objectives, Hitler ordered LSSAH to remove the "AH" insignia from their uniforms. In disgust, the division sent Hitler a large number of their medals in a latrine bucket. As one sergeant put it, "He can only have us shot."
In April, 1945, LSSAH retreated with the 6th SS Panzer Army, into Austria, and attempted and failed to defend Vienna against the 4th Guards Army, 20th Guards Rifle Corps and 1st Guards Mechanized Corps.
Reduced to the strength of a weakened regiment, LSSAH continued fighting until, on May 7th, they received an order to surrender from Field-Marshal Kesselring. It said, "The terms of the cease fire are also binding on all formations of the SS. I expect that like the entire Wehrmacht, the Leibstandarte will also conduct itself in an irreproachably correct manner." The reply read, "Tomorrow we shall march into captivity with heads held high. The regiment that has the once proud honor of bearing the name Leibstandarte is now signing off." True to their word, the LSSAH surrendered to the Americans.
After the war, for the Malmedy Massacre, 75 men were tried at Nuremburg. Most of them were from LSSAH but also included 6th SS Panzer Army's Commander and Chief of Staff, General Dietrich and General Kraemer. 1st SS Panzer Corps's Commander Lieutenant General Priess, and 1st SS Panzer Regiment's Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Peiper. 45 of them were sentenced to death, the rest were given lengthy prison sentences. After reviews, appeals, and commissions, all the death sentences were commuted. Peiper was the last to be released, in 1956.