Paul Hausser (1880-1972) was the most capable general to serve in the Waffen-SS, after playing an important role in the creation of the armed wing of the SS. By the time he joined the SS Hausser was an experienced soldier, having served as an officer in the First World War and retired from the Reichswehr as an acting General lieutenant in 1932. After leaving the Reichswehr he joined the Stahlhelm (Steel Helmets), a right-wing organisation for veterans, but after Hitler came to power the Stahlhelm was forced to become part of the SA. Members of the two organisations frequently clashed, and the merger was short-lived.
By the end of 1933 Hausser had joined to the SS, becoming head of its officer academy. In this role he created some of the first SS training programs, and played an important part in the expansion of the organisation from Hitler's bodyguard to become a state within a state. In 1935 he took command of the SS officer training school at Braunschweig,
From October 1939 until October 1941 Hausser commanded the SS Panzer Division Das Reich (known as the SS-Verfügungsdivision until January 1941), taking part in the invasions of the France and of the Soviet Union and winning the Knight's Cross (awarded on 8 August 1941). In October he lost an eye, and from then on wore a distinctive black eye patch.
Early in 1943 Hausser was appointed to command an SS Panzer Corps made up of the Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf division. This new corps was used to spearhead Manstein's successful counterattack at Kharkov, which ended with the Germans retaking the city and stabilising the front after the Soviet victory at Stalingrad. Hausser was rewarded with the Oakleaves to his Knight's Cross (28 July 1943).
The summer of 1943 was dominated by the battle of Kursk. Hausser's SS Panzer Corps (reduced to Das Reich and Totenkopf) fought on the southern flank of the battle, and despite making some early progress shared in the German defeat. The two divisions were involved in constant fighting until the spring of 1944 when they were sent to the west to refit and recover.
Hausser soon returned to the east, this time as head of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps, made up of the newly formed 9th and 10th SS Divisions. This new corps reached Poland in March 1944, and in the following month helped halt a Soviet offensive at Tarnopol.
Soon after the D-Day landings Hausser was ordered to move his corps across Europe from Poland to France. The first trains left Poland on 12 June, and four days later reached Lorraine. Hausser then ran into the effects of Allied air power for the first time, for his men had to abandon the trains in Lorraine and make a 400 mile road journey across France, travelling mostly by night. It would take Hausser two weeks to reach the battlefield in Normandy.
As Hausser approached Normandy he began to receive contradictory orders. Rommel had been hoping to use the 2nd SS Panzer Corps to launch a counterattack towards Bayeux, but as it approached Normandy the situation around Caen began to deteriorate. On 26 June General Dollman, the commander of the German 7th Army in Normandy, twice ordered Hausser to march towards Caen and twice cancelled the order. On 28 June, with the first of Hausser's men finally in place, Dollman once again ordered him to attack the Allies around Caen, and then died before he could cancel the order. With Rommel and von Rundstedt on their way to meet with Hitler Dollman's death left a power vacuum, and Hausser was forced to carry out Dollman's last orders.
The planned counterattack didn't begin until the afternoon of 29 June, and even then Allied air power, artillery and naval gunnery meant that the Panzers were at half of their planned strength. The counterattack failed completely, and on 30 June Hausser was forced to call it off.
By that point Hitler had appointed Hausser to command the 7th Army, making him the first SS Officer to command a regular army. He soon discovered that his new command was to be subjected to constant and sometimes disastrous interference from Hitler. Soon after taking up his new command Hausser recommended withdrawing from Caen to form a new shorter line to take account of the weakness of the German infantry, but Hitler had already forbidden that move.
The same insistence on 'no withdrawals' recurred late in July when Hausser wanted to withdraw behind the St. Lô to Coutances road to make his left wing less vulnerable. Once against Hitler refused to allow Hausser to withdraw even this short distance. Hausser decided to defend his front in some depth, with a weak front line and strong forces posted at each road junction, relying on the hedges of the bocage country to prevent the Americans from outflanking these positions.
When the American offensive began on 25 July they deployed a new weapon – the Rhinoceros tank, a Sherman tank with eight sharp steel teeth mounted two feet above the ground. This allowed the tank to drive straight through a hedge at 10-15 mph clearing a route for the American armour to bypass Hausser's strong points.
The American breakthrough soon saw them threaten to encircle the Germans from the south, but despite this Hitler insisted that Hausser take part in the Mortain offensive. This attack ended in predictable failure and also helped to create the Falaise pocket. Hitler lost faith in von Kluge, who had replaced von Rundstedt earlier in the battle, and on 17 August he was replaced by Model. Model immediately gave Hausser command of all troops inside the pocket, with orders to withdraw to the Dives River, but a few days later Hausser was badly wounded by a shell fragment, and had to escape from the pocket on the back of one of the few tanks to escape. For his efforts in the west Hausser was awarded the Swords to his Knight's Cross. He was then appointed to command Army Group G, with the futile task of attempting to stop Patton from reaching the Rhine.