History of the Totenkopf

Death's Head

The Death's Head
  Of all SS uniform trappings and accoutrements, the one emblem which endured throughout the history of
  the organization and became firmly associated with it was the death's head or Totenkopf. It has often been
  assumed that the death's head was adopted simply to strike terror into the hearts of those who saw it.    In
  fact, it was chosen as a direct and emotional link with  the past, and in particular with the elite military units
  of the Imperial Reich.  Medieval German literature and romantic poems were filled with references to
  dark forces and the symbols of death and destruction, a typical example being the following short excerpt
  from an epic work by the 15th-century writer  Garnier von Susteren:

            ´Behold the knight
            In solemn black manner,
            With a skull on his crest
            And blood on his banner...´

In 1740, a jawless death's head with the bones  lying behind the skull, embroidered in silver bullion,
  adorned the black funeral trappings of the Prussian  king, Friedrich Wilhelm 1. In his memory the Lelb-
  Husaren Regiments Nos. 1 and 2, elite Prussian  Royal Bodyguard units which were formed the
  following year, took black as the color of their  uniforms and wore a massive Totenkopf of similar
  design on their Pelzmützen or busbies.  The State of  Brunswick followed suit in 1809, when the death's
  head was adopted by its Hussar Regiment No. 17 and  the third battalion of Infantry Regiment No. 92.  The
  Brunswick Totenkopf differed slightly in design from  the Prussian one, with the skull facing forward and
  situated directly above the crossed bones. 

During World War I the death's head was chosen
   as a formation symbol by a number of crack German   army units, particularly the stormtroops, flamethrower 
detachments and tank battalions.  Several   pilots, including the air ace Leutnant Georg von
   Hantelmann, also used variants of it as personal   emblems.  Almost immediately after the end of
   hostilities in 1918 the death's head appeared again,   this time painted on the helmets and vehicles of some
   of the most famous Freikorps.  Because of its association with these formations it became symbolic not
   only of wartime daring and self-sacrifice but also of  postwar traditionalism, anti-Liberalism and anti-
   Bolshevism.  Nationalist ex-servicemen even had  death's head rings, cuff links, tie pins and other
   adornments privately made for wear with their civilian clothes.

       It is not surprising, therefore, that members of  the Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler eagerly took the Toten-
   kopf as their distinctive emblem in 1923, initially acquiring a small stock of appropriate army surplus
   cap badges.  Their successors in the SS thereafter contracted the firm of Deschler in Munich to restrict
   large quantities of the Prussian-style jawless death's head, which they used on their headgear for the next
   11 years.  As Hitler's personal guards they liked to  model themselves on the Imperial Bodyguard llussars,
 who had become known as the 'Schwarze  Totenkopfhusaren' or 'Black Death's Head laussars',
   and were fond of singing their old regimental song   with its emotive verse:

           'In black we are dressed,
           In blood we are drenched,
           Death's head on our helmets.
           Hurrah!  Hurrah!
           We stand unshaken!'


When, in 1934, the Prussian-style Totenkopf began to be used as an elite badge by the new army
 Panzer units (which were, after all, the natural successors to the Imperial cavalry regiments), the SS
 devised its own unique pattern of grinning death's head, with lower jaw, which it wore thereafter.
     The 1934-pattern SS Totenkopf ultimately took various forms right-facing, left-facing and front facing and appeared on the 
cloth headgear of all SS members and on the tunics and vehicles of the SS-
 Totenkopfverbände and Waffen-SS Totenkopf- Division.  It was the centerpiece of the SS Death's
 Head Ring, and could be seen on dagger and gorget chains, mess jackets, flags, standards, drum covers,
 trumpet banners and the SS and Police Guerrilla Warfare Badge. 

 Moreover, because of its direct
 associations with Danzig, where the Prussian Leib Husaren Regiments had been garrisoned until 1918
 it was selected as the special formation badge of the SS-Helmwehr Danzig and the Danzig Police an
 Fire Service.  Himmler wanted his men to be proud of their heritage, and there is no doubt that the
 honorable military associations of the German Death's Head were well used to that end.  It became
 an instant status symbol in the Third Reich, and a inspiration to those who were granted the privilege of  wearing it.


It is worth mentioning that the Totenkopf was also borne by several Wehrmacht elements such as
 the 5th Cavalry Regiment, the I7th Infantry Regiment, the naval Kdstenschutz Danzig, and the
 Luftwaffe's Schleppgruppe 4 and KampfgruPPC 5 during World War II.

 (Moreover, many elite units of
 other nations have likewise used the death's head emblem at various times.  These include the British
 Royal Navy submarine service and '7th Lancers, Mussolini's bodyguard, certain US special forces,
 Imperial Russian cossacks, Polish tank crews, Fin- nish cavalry and the French security police, to name
 but a few.  Bulgaria even had a Military Order for Bravery in World War I which was graded 'With Skulls'.)


 The Runes
 Alongside the Totenkopf, the SS-Runen or SS runes represented the elitism and brotherly comradeship of
 the organisation, and were consciously elevated to an almost holy status.  Indeed, as SS men marched off to
 war in 1939 they sang their battle-hymn 'We Are All SS'('SS Wir Alle'), which included the line 'We all
 stand ready for battle, inspired by runes and death's head' ('Wir alle stehen zum Kampf bereit, wenn
 Runen und Totenkopf führen').

 The word 'rune' derives from the Old Norse 'run', meaning 'secret script'.  Runes were characters
 which formed the alphabets used by the Germanic tribes of pre-Christian Europe for both magical and
 ordinary writing.  There were three major branches of the runic alphabet and a number of minor variants,
 and some runes doubled as symbols representative of human traits or ideals, much as the Romans used oak
 and laurel leaves to denote strength and victory.  In AD 98, in his work Germania , the historian Tacitus
 described in detail how the Germans engaged in divination by runes.  In the 19th and early 20th
 centuries runes began to be re-examined by the fashionable 'Völkisch' or 'folk' movements of northern Europe, which promoted
 interest in traditional myths, beliefs and festivals.  Among these groups was
 the Thule Society, and through his association with its activities during 1919-20 Heinrich Himmler
 began to look back to the mystical Dark Ages for much of his inspiration.  He had always had a
 fascination for cryptic codes and hidden messages, so it was doubly appropriate that he should tap many of
 the ideas in pagan symbolism and adopt, or adapt, certain runes for use by his SS.

Hitler created the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf just after the 1939 invasion of Poland. Totenkopf became a brutal, if courageous, division, fighting recklessly and consistently suffering heavy casualties. Being one of the first Waffen-SS divisions, the troops of Totenkopf perhaps felt they had something to prove to the regular German Army who looked down on the unit as a bunch of unsavory, fanatical troops.

Totenkopf participated in the invasion of France, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

*This website  in no way condones the atrocities committed by the Nazi party and is in no way associated with any hate group that is. This website offers nothing for sale. This website was created as a part to WWIIonline the game.

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