Distribution of awards between W-SS and WH

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Distribution of awards between W-SS and WH

Post by Westphalia1812 » 23 Dec 2022 10:17

Already during the Second World War, quite a few soldiers of the Army were convinced that the Waffen-SS would be favored in the awarding of decorations. After the war, many continued to hold this view, and even today, some participants in the war are of the opinion that the Army was disadvantaged in this respect. In fact, there were medals awarded primarily for political reasons - and therefore probably preferably to renowned SS leaders such as Hermann Fegelein, Josef "Sepp" Dietrich and Theodor Eicke. When Eicke was awarded the Oak Leaf to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in April 1942 for the successes of his division "Totenkopf" in the cauldron of Demjansk, this was recorded in the war diary of the II. Army Corps (II. AK), to which the division was subordinate, commented: "As much as General Eicke is to be congratulated for this high decoration, it is incomprehensible to the troops and the leadership of the units of the II. AK that General Eicke of the Waffen-SS and not the Commanding General of the II. AK received the oak leaves. After all, the latter was responsible for everything that happened in the last months and at least held the fortress Demjansk, as the Fuehrer had ordered".

The decisive question, however, is whether such privileges were exceptions or whether one can assume a systematic preference for the Waffen-SS in the awarding of orders. In this regard, it should first be noted that the actual or supposed privileging of some soldiers for political reasons was apparently not limited to the Waffen-SS.
In some army units, too, there were officers who received high decorations because they were particularly loyal to the Nazi line. At least, there were rumors to this effect. In general, however, such cases are likely to have been extremely rare, especially in the case of the highest orders such as the Knight's Cross, especially if they were not awarded directly by Hitler. As already mentioned above, the official channels through which a proposal for an award usually had to pass were long and strictly regulated. This official channel excluded a systematic preference for the Waffen-SS, because not only for soldiers of the Army, but also for members of the Waffen-SS the Army Personnel Office (HPA - Heerespersonalamt) was responsible for awarding orders:

"The Waffen-SS had its own personnel office, but the award proposals for Knight's Crosses and the higher levels were processed - like all other awards for members of the Waffen-SS - by the Army Personnel Office. This was a logical consequence, because the Waffen-SS did not have its own command structure parallel to the Army, like the Air Force or the Navy. The proposals were therefore promoted via the 'Army' service route and thus automatically entered the HPA." The Army would therefore have disadvantaged itself if it had given preference to members of the Waffen SS when awarding decorations.
Nevertheless, there was a difference between the Army and the Waffen SS with regard to the official channels for awarding orders: In contrast to the Army's award proposals, Waffen-SS applications were examined by a Waffen-SS liaison officer after receipt by the Army Personnel Office and submitted to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler for his opinion. Himmler had the right of veto. As soon as Himmler had reviewed the documents, they were returned to the Army Personnel Office and from there forwarded to Hitler. The applications of the Waffen-SS thus had to pass through an additional "instance". Consequently, the claim of Waffen SS expert Jean-Luc Leleu that Waffen SS soldiers were at an advantage when it came to medal awards because the official channels through which their applications had to pass were shorter must be questioned. This was not the case, at least according to the regulations.

However, it happened that commanders of the Waffen-SS clearly preferred the SS soldiers subordinated to them.
The possibility of this arose in the case of commanding generals or army commanders who were subordinate to both Army and Waffen SS units. Medals awarded contineously could then be distributed unevenly or unfairly. Occasionally, deeds were exaggerated in applications for high decorations in order to increase the likelihood that a proposed soldier would be decorated.
Finally, psychological moment may have played a role: If a proposal came from a particularly notable and popular general, it stands to reason that intermediate superiors were more likely to endorse it.
One commander who managed to repeatedly favor the SS soldiers under his command seems to have been Josef "Sepp" Dietrich. Initially commander of the "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler", Dietrich commanded the I. SS-Panzerkorps during the battles in Normandy in 1944, before he was appointed commander-in-chief of the 6th Panzer Army a few months before the end of the war.

Dietrich's favoritism toward his soldiers went so far that he arbitrarily awarded Knight's Crosses to a number of SS soldiers in his army just a few days before the end of the war, even though he was not authorized to do so. However, as early as the summer of 1944, when Dietrich was still Commanding General of the I. SS Panzer Corps, he had favored SS units in awarding Iron Crosses at the expense of Army units that were also under his command. During this period, a soldier was also awarded a medal, who is still regarded by Army veterans and authors of military history books as a prime example of favoritism toward the Waffen SS. The person in question is SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann. As company commander of the heavy SS Panzer Abteilung 101 he received the Oak Leaf with Swords to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in June 1944. He was the only tank commander of World War II to be decorated with this high order. When "Sepp" proposed Dietrich Wittmann for this rare award, he submitted an application with verifiable exaggerations, which probably was done to help his protégé obtaining the award.

But not only the award proposal provoked criticism, but also a second award process, which was also related to Wittmann. On January 14, 1944, Wittmann had been awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Two days later, his gunner, SS-Rottenführer Balthasar Woll, also received the Knight's Cross. This was unusual, because gunners rarely received such high awards. If they were particularly accurate, this generally benefited their commanders, who were credited with the corresponding kills. Nevertheless, the example of Balthasar Woll is not evidence of a preference for the Waffen SS, for Woll was not the only gunner of an armored fighting vehicle to be awarded the Knight's Cross, as is sometimes erroneously assumed. There were a number of awards in the army, for example, to NCO Johann Eggers (Panzer Regiment 6), NCO Heinz Kramer (Heavy Panzer Abteilung 502), and NCO Hugo Wiesmann (Panzer Regiment 11). Even if it can be assumed that the "Leibstandarte" received preferential treatment when medals were awarded, because its long-time commander Josef "Sepp" Dietrich obviously tried to help as many of his soldiers as possible to receive high decorations, this does not mean that the decorated soldiers received these medals undeservedly: In contrast to the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe, there are no known cases of the "Leibstandarte" being wrongly awarded on the basis of "imagined" successes. Moreover, systematic favoritism of the Waffen SS in the awarding of decorations can be ruled out, because the Army Personnel Office was responsible for this and the official channels were generally observed. However, this finding is of little relevance for the comparison of the combat value of military units:
As shown above, awards were granted quite arbitrarily and with considerable variations between the units. And in most cases, it will be difficult to prove preferential treatment or discrimination.
Das Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes und der Kampfwert militärischer Verbände, Roman Töppel (2012)
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