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--Image-File Totenkopf2.gif

The SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) — the Skull or "Death's Head" Formations — were made up of Germany's camp guards. During World War II, the SS-TV also provided troops for one of the first combat units of the Waffen-SS, the Totenkopfdivision, which eventually evolved into one of Germany's most formidable combat formations. The SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) along with the Totenkopf formations (SS-TV) would be the cornerstone of future Waffen-SS divisions.


SS-Mann of the SS-Totenkopfverbände

The SS-TV was established by SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Eicke to provide the personnel for the manning of the labour camps, such as Dachau (where the first unit was established), Sachsenhausen and Oranienburg, the town north of Berlin where Eicke's office had been established.

Following the Night of the Long Knives, a purge ordered by Adolf Hitler of potential political rivals in the Sturmabteilung (SA) in June 1934, Eicke – who had played a major role in that affair – was appointed as the Inspector of Labour Camps and Commander of SS guard formations (Inspekteur der Konzentrationslager und Führer der SS Wachverbände); he was also promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer.

On 29 March 1936, the Reichsführer-SS officially designated these units as the SS-Totenkopfverbände. The term Totenkopf, or "Death's Head", remained until the dissolution of the SS in 1945, although the nature of the organization had changed dramatically before and during the war.

After the conclusion of the Poland Campaign, the three regiments of the Verfügungstruppe were joined to form the SS-Verfügungsdivision and Leibstandarte was transformed into a motorized regiment. Also, two other divisions were created, the Totenkopf and Polizeidivision.

On 16 October 1939, the SS Division “Totenkopf” was set up under the leadership of Theodor Eicke, for which the SS-Totenkopf-Standarte 1 “Oberbayern”, the SS-Totenkopf-Standarte 2 “Brandenburg” and the SS-Totenkopf-Standarte 3 “Thuringia” were used. As early as 22 April 1940, Daily Order No. 1481 was issued by the SS Main Office to all departments of the SS-VT:

“On orders from the RfSS, all SS units under arms are united in the Waffen-SS. […] The terms ‘SS-Verfügungstruppe’ and ‘SS-Totenkopfverbände’ are no longer applicable.”

General inspectors


  • SS-Division „Totenkopf“ (16 October 1939)
    • Target strength of 15,000 soldiers. Almost half of them came from the three original Totenkopf standards, the others were previously with the General SS, the SS-Heimwehr Danzig, the order police and the newer Totenkopf units. At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the division had 17,400 men.
  • SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division „Totenkopf“ (9 November 1942)
    • During the preemptive strike against the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the division was deployed to Army Group North and was involved with several other divisions in the Battle of Demyansk. The division lost around 80% of its fighting troops there between January and October 1942, which is why the remnants of the division were relocated to southern France after the end of the battle to refresh themselves. There it was reorganized as the SS Panzergrenadier Division “Totenkopf” on 9 November 1942 and relocated again to the Eastern Front in March 1943. The division was involved in the recapture of Kharkov, with the division losing its commander, SS-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke, on a reconnaissance mission. The division also took part in the Battle of Kursk, in which the II SS Panzer Corps, led by SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser, fought against Red Army forces that were fifteen times superior in numbers and inflicted the greatest losses on the Bolshevik enemy. In August 1943, the entire German Eastern Front and with it the SS Panzergrenadier Division “Totenkopf” had to retreat further and further.
  • 3. SS-Panzer-Division „Totenkopf“ (21 October 1943 by renaming the numbering of the SS divisions)
    • In mid-July 1944, the division was relocated to the Bialystok area as a reinforcement of Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte) and at the end of July it repelled an attack by the Soviet 47th Army near the town of Siedlce. At the same time, it was assigned to the IV SS Panzer Corps of the 9th Army together with the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking”. In September 1944, after suffering heavy losses, around 5,000 soldiers were added to the division as replacements. This reinforcement consisted of Kriegsmarine artillerymen and 4,316 Luftwaffe personnel.