Tough question Dwight, there are probably as many answers to that as there are members here. Anyway its a greyzone when exactly a unit could be termed "elite".
My understanding of the term "elite", is when the soldiers a recruited based upon certain above average physic or mental requirements, could also be based upon skills and experience. Also they should receive better training and equipment than regular units. Grossdeutschland is a good example of such.
Finally it should be considered prestigious to serve at the unit, so attention, favour and privilige do play an important role in order to stand out as something special. As you mention "crack" units are missing the prestige but they can earn it and surely they can evolve into "elite" units over time.
WSS are such a vast organisation with huge differences in the quality of the divisions, same as in the werhmacht, so I dont think WSS can be termed "elite" as a whole, but some of the single divisions have all the features to be considered elite.
Special units like British Commandos or SS-Jagdverbände I consider elite units but they are in another category than large divisions.
Just my 2 cents.
Btw. Anyone who knows what was the requirements to become Fallschirmjäger?
03-27-2014 11:18 PM
Many years ago I interviewed lt. Gen. Paul W. "Bull" Kendal who commanded I corps in Korea. June 1952-April 1953. He maintained that there is no such thing as an "elite" unit, meaning one that is so demonstrably superior that it has no peer and excels without exception. In his view, as a combat commander in two wars, any group of people can be trained to fight effectively. National origin, education, and the level of social development are of no consequence in the process. He told me that given proper training, provided with proper weapons and supply, and properly led any motivated group will fight well. Motivation in his opinion came from a variety of sources, among them training, equipment, leadership, and social pressure. He cited the Allies' citizen , conscripted armies as his example, pointing out that they performed well throughout the war with the expected peaks and valleys of performance that are natural to combat units in any war. He also pointed out the so-called elite forces of all the warring powers experienced the same peaks and valleys in performance throughout the war. He attributed the cult of elitism to wartime propaganda hyperbole that was actually aimed at the civilian audience rather than the specifically designated "elite" units. Esprit de Corps was evident throughout all the warring armies without regard to any given special status. His bottom line was that, given training, equipment, and leadership, a sense of specialness among fighting troops will arise from their perception of their performance in relation to other units around them, the age old competitive spirit--"we're better than they are, because we are us." Dwight
Well said. Dr. Messimer's discussion embodies the practice of the citizen soldier, an important tradition in the U.S. army and the German army, to be sure, which is unknown to
many who post here who are either too young to have any experience of such a thing, or have no military experience at all.
The latter is predominate, of course.
I would also add that black uniforms, rings with skulls on them, and physical requirements for tall, blonde men, daggers and the like do not in and of themselves
constitute an elite.
I have some experience with these themes in other than a "hobby" dimension, and thank Dr. Messimer for a fine intervention.
The original idea of an elite in European armies derived from the customs, heritage, manners and honor of the nobility at arms, which, with the rise of the standing army
in the epoch of the 16th through the 18th century was witness to infantry and cavalry regiments of particular dash and elan, and to which the sons of the finest noble families aspired
to serve, because their forebearers did and their reputation in battle was well known.
The SS was a copy of a copy of this idea, but with a scientific racist idea of political soldier, para military elite on a new basis, but with modified trappings
of the old.
If one's criterion is strapping physical specimens and masculine ideal akin to movie stars and such,
then this is again a different issue that goes beyond an analysis of military organizations and society over time.
This being said, I nonetheless collect SS regalia and have spent more than 25 dollars over fifty years on such things, but my own interest derives more from the place
of this group in the epoch of total war and in German history, generally.
There are also many examples of elite fighting units failing in the record of war, a fact that deserves mention here. This aspect speaks to Dr. Messimer's imponderables of leadership, citizenship, morale, obedience and the psychology of military life and combat in fact versus some propaganda depiction of same, especially in a nation state for which propaganda was a central aspect of all national life.
The Waffen SS were no different from the heer. They had the same basic training. The only slight difference in training was the ss emphasized on more sports such as boxing, fencing, etc. People, please stop calling them "elite". They were fanatical fighters, yes, but by no means elite.
US Navy Seals, I would consider to be an actual "elite" unit. Trained far past the normal troop training and endurance levels and totally weeded out of physically inferior specimens. The WSS, while some of their divisions were superiorly equipped and trained, they were not entirely the "blonde haired supermen" the propagandists liked to tout. Indeed, there were more than a few WSS divisions that were miserable specimens and failed spectacularly in the field. There have been many so-bragged about "elites" that have performed miserably in war. Take, for example, the much dreaded Iraqi "Republican Guards" who ended up being all smoke and no fire when the time came to prove themselves. In the case of the WSS, they were, by many accounts, more ruthless and stood fire quite well, but certainly not All of them.
"Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it."
Don't get me wrong, guys. The German military as a whole, was some of the best I've read about, and in my opinion the best military of WW2. They had the best soldiers, equipment, and leadership. As far as Waffen SS divisions, in my opinion the Totenkopf was the most ferocious of them all.
Well I guess it's time to give my 2 Canadian cents (round to a dime unless you're paying credit ).
I think the the WSS were probably on average what they were cracked up to be but I think this varied greatly by division and time period. At the start of the war they certainly received more intensive training than WH units. They also throughout the war received superior equipment. They also largely appeared braver than the WH units because they were volunteers and not conscripts. Of course this should be looked at on a divisional basis. I also think that we may have a more elite view of the WSS because many of the units that fought the western allies were "elite" units and the stereotype stuck.
While you can think whatever you wish, and even write it here, a scholar has addressed this issue
in a breath taking and compelling way.
Schöningh Wissenschaft: »Weltanschaulich gefestigte Kämpfer«: Die Soldaten der Waffen-SS 1933-1945
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I mentioned this book when it appeared, by the way.