The SS was the most notorious part of the Nazi state. Originally formed to protect Hitler from the Nazi party's own SA storm troopers, it grew into a state within a state, controlling the Gestapo, the SD, a vast industrial empire (which included one excellent fine porcelain company and an expert maker of Damascus swords!), the concentration camps and providing a massive military force in the shape of the Waffen SS.
The fighting units get the most space, with unit-by-unit histories of the foreign-manned divisions within the SS, a look at their campaigns (with the scale of SS involvement increasing as the war went on), their weapons and their role in atrocities. This is perhaps inevitable given that there were some thirty Waffen SS divisions, each with its own history, combat record and involvement (or otherwise) in atrocities. The early history of the SS also gets some good coverage.
The home-based SS was perhaps the most complex part of the organisation, but many of its components were quite small or quite simple. They are given a well structured chapter, looking at the bureaucracy, security services, criminal police, the industrial empire and the slave labourers. The Einsatzgruppen are also dealt with in this chapter, probably because they don't quite fit anywhere else
The section on the SS's role in atrocities is well organised, looking at each section of the organisation in turn, condemning most of them and giving parts of the Waffen SS a partial bill of health (although just about every German division that fought on the Eastern Front seems to have taken part in some war crimes, sadly the same can be said for parts of the Red Army and the Soviet security services). Most of the best known atrocities are looked with in some detail.
Overall this is an impressive piece of work, with a very comprehensive coverage of the vast SS organisation. I can't help feel that the author is a little over-impressed with the Waffen SS's fighting abilities, but other than that the work feels well balanced and provides an valuable history of this justly notorious organisation.
The Birth of the SS
The State's Troops
Forged in Battle
The SS Turns East
Hitler's Foreign Legions
Holding the Line
Battles in the West
Weapons and Equipment
Author: Gordon Williamson