Towards a New SS?
By CONSTANTINE FITZGIBBON
BY the end of the Second World War the most formidable fighting troops at the dis- posal of the Germans were the Armed, or Waffen, SS. They amounted to over twenty divisions, a high proportion of them Panzer Divisions and usually equipped on a more lavish and more modern scale than the armoured divi- sions of the German army. They were not part of that army, but belonged to the Nazi Party, specifically to Heinrich Himmler, and they fought with the ferocity, often with the savagery, of the damned. They were a most dangerous and unpleasant enemy, and in 1945 we thought that we had seen the last of them, and we were glad. But had we? A similar organisation seems to be in an early stage of growth in Eastern Ger- many. It is as well that the story of the `Combat Groups of the Working Class' should now be published.*
The ostensible purpose of these military units is to protect the workers' factories against attack by enemies of the State. Just so, the initial pur- pose of the SS was to police the halls in Which Nazis holding demonstrations or meetings were liable to attack by Communists during the Wei- mar period. But, of course, the enemies of the State are not going to attack the workers' fac- tories. And the real function of these new Com- bat Groups becomes apparent when we examine their history, organisation, training and employ- ment.
They were created in 1953, shortly before the anti-Communist uprisings of that June. It will he recalled that the risings had ultimately to be suppressed by Russian tanks and troops, since the sympathies of the East German police and armed forces were often with the rebels. This was a humiliating admission of failure both for the Russians and for their German creatures who style themselves the Government of the German Democratic Republic. In order to avoid another such humiliation the Combat Groups were greatly enlarged under direct party control at all levels, and as a branch of the police, not of the army. It was soon realised that a bonus could be derived from this, were the Geneva Con- ference of 1955 to lead to agreed, scaled dis- armament. The Combat Groups, not being part of the East German armed forces, would not be included in any all-round scaling-down of exist- ing army strengths. (Similar evasions had been practised in Germany before, by both the Weimar and the Nazi Governments, during the equally useless Disarmament Conference of the early 1930s.) Enrolment and reorganisation followed on a large scale, and the Combat Groups soon numbered more than a third of a million men -- approximately twice the size of the whole British Army--and they still do today.
These soldiers arc not paid. Their service is part-time, rather like the Swiss army, and the unit is based on the factory, or groups of fac- tories. Enlistment is technically voluntary, but is, in fact, compulsory to the extent that local party bosses make it so. Men have been dis- missed from their jobs for refusing to join, and, of course, to lose one's job in such circumstances is a major disaster to a man and to his family. 'I he men enrolled between the ages of forty-two and sixty do seem to have a role similar to that * CIVIL WAR IN THE MAKING 'THE COMBAT GROUPS. OF THE WORKING CLASS' IN EAST GER- MANY. By W. Bader. Introduced by Lord Morrison of I.ambeth. (The Independent Information Centre, London, WI4, 7s.)
of our war-time Home Guard. For the younger ones it is very different.
There are two types of Combat Group, the infantry battalion and the heavy battalion. The infantry Combat Group consists of a staff platoon and four companies (or `Hundreds,' as they are called), each of three platoons con- taining three seotions per platoon. The heavy Combat Group has an enlarged staff platoon, in- cluding an armoured car section, two motorised Hundreds and a heavy Hundred, consisting of an anti-tank gun platoon, a heavy mortar platoon and a heavy machine-gun platoon. There are both combat and political officers, as well as NCOs, all of whom attend courses run by the East German army. Training for all ranks is com- parable with that given to the Territorial Army here. Supply is handled by the para-military Frontier Police. At least two dozen Heavy Hun- dreds have been identified. Significantly, most of these are near the frontier or near Berlin.
Their equipment, particularly that of the Heavy Hundreds, reveals that the ostensible pur- pose for which this reserve army was created is not its real one. Heavy mortars, armoured cars and motorised infantry are not needed for local factory defence, and, indeed, there is no reason why they should not one day be similarly equipped with tactical atomic weapons to defend" their factories. The units' training lays as much emphasis on attack as on defence. Their own newspaper, Der Kiimpfer, constantly writes in aggressive terms, extolling them as the spearhead of the German Revolution and so on.
Nor have they been employed defensively. They were first `in action' on August 13, 1961, when they helped build the Berlin Wall, shot their compatriots trying to escape to the West and, perhaps more important, stood guard be- hind unreliable Vopo (People's Police') units on the zonal border. In this last capacity they seem to perform the function of the third man in the now standard triangular deployment of Vopos on the frontier: two in front and one behind ready to shoot either of the other two should he attempt to escape.
It is normal procedure among clever tyrants that they never rely upon a single coercive force, lest it turn against the tyrant. Two, usually a police force and an army, are the minimum, while three are better still. Hitler knew this and Ulbricht has remembered it.
The loyalty of the Combat Groups is as problematical as that of Ulbricht's army and of his police. But in this respect they have certain advantages over the other two arms of his tyranny. In the first place, they can have very little esprit de corps, since they are normally atomised throughout the factory floors and only occasionally mobilised for such jobs as those mentioned above or for the purpose of terroris- ing the peasantry into `voluntary' collectivisation. Secondly, they are drawn from the more ig- norant classes: when they marched or drove to the Zonal Frontier in 1961, some of them thought they were off to invade West Germany. Thirdly, they are under direct party control at all levels.
Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that if it came to war with the Bundeswehr most of them would desert as fast as they could. A cadre, however, would remain loyal. And war is not the task for which they are envisaged. These reliable party men, with a hankering after limited power, are even now being moved to other factories where they are privileged and, needless to say, unpopular. Their unpopularity is desirable to the party, in that it will chain them ever closer to its chariot. And there is evidence that some of these ideologues or opportunists are ear- marked, in the event of German reunification on Russian terms, to take over, at the shop steward level, specific factories in Federal Germany. Even a few thousand such men would play a very important retie in such conditions. The role that they might play later, in a united Com- munist Germany, would be much greater.
In their indoctrination they are not encouraged to remember Germany's military heroes, Frederick the Great, Gneisenau, Moltke. Rather are they told to recall the Peasants' Revolt, the men who fought on the barricades in 1848, and, above all, the Red Front Fighters who brawled and murdered with the SA in the 1920s. But the unmentioned shadow which looms larger than all these, as they sing their songs of hate, is that of the SS man patrolling his concentration camp perimeter, shooting his prisoners of war, and fighting to the death in subservience to another mad and wicked ideology.