This is part of an article by Waffen SS leader Leon Degrelle, who led his men to the bitter end at Stalingrad. As a statesman and a soldier he knew Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, Franco, Laval, Marshal Petain and all the European leaders well during World War Two. Leon Degrelle is one of the most famous Waffen SS soldiers. After joining as a private he earned all stripes from corporal to general for exceptional bravery in combat. He engaged in seventy-five hand-to-hand combat actions. He was wounded on numerous occasions. He was the recipient of the highest honors: The Ritterkreuz, the Oak-Leaves, the Gold German Cross and numerous other decorations for outstanding valor under enemy fire. One of the last to fight on the Eastern Front, Leon Degrelle escaped unconditional surrender by flying some 1500 miles across Europe toward Spain. He managed to survive constant fire all along the way and crash-landed on the beach of San Sebastian in Spain, critically wounded. Against all odds he survived. Slowly he managed to re-build a new life in exile for himself and his family.
When I entered Russia, I was like a man facing a shut door. I knew I had to crash through it, but without knowing what was behind it.
Hitler was right. He knew the Soviets were strong, but above all he knew they were going to be a lot stronger. 1941 was the only time Hitler had some respite. The British had not succeeded yet in expanding the war. Hitler, who never wanted the war with Britain, still tried for peace. He invited me to spend a week at his home. He wanted to discuss the whole situation and hear what I had to say about it. He spoke very simply and clearly. The atmosphere was informal and relaxed. He made you feel at home because he really enjoyed being hospitable. He buttered pieces of toast in a leisurely fashion, and passed them around, and although he did not drink he went to get a bottle of champagne after each meal because he knew I enjoyed a glass at the end of it. All without fuss and with genuine friendliness. It was part of his genius that he was also a man of simple ways without the slightest affection and a man of great humility. We talked about England. I asked him bluntly: "Why on earth didn't you finish the British off in Dunkirk? Everyone knew you could have wiped them out." He answered: "Yes, I withheld my troops and let the British escape back to England. The humiliation of such a defeat would have made it difficult to try for peace with them afterwards."
At the same time, Hitler told me he did not want to dispel the Soviet belief that he was going to invade England. He mentioned that he even had small Anglo-German dictionaries distributed to his troops in Poland. The Soviet spies there duly reported to the Kremlin that Germany's presence in Poland was a bluff and that they were about to leave for the British Isles.
On 22 June 1941, it was Russia and not England that Germany invaded. The initial victories were swift but costly. I lived the epic struggle of the Russian Front. It was a tragic epic; it was also martyrdom. The endless thousands of miles of the Russian steppes were overwhelming. We had to reach the Caucasus by foot, always under extreme conditions. In the summer we often walked knee-deep in mud, and in winter there were below-zero freezing temperatures. But for a matter of a few days Hitler would have won the war in Russia in 1941. Before the battle of Moscow, Hitler had succeeded in defeating the Soviet Army, and taking considerable numbers of prisoners.
General Guderian's tank division, which had all by itself encircled more than a million Soviet troops near Kiev, had reached Moscow right up to the city's tramway lines. It was then that suddenly an unbelievable freeze happened: 40, 42, 50 degrees Celsius below zero! This meant that not only were men freezing, but the equipment was also freezing, on the spot. No tanks could move. Yesterday's mud had frozen to a solid block of ice, half a meter high, icing up the tank treads.
Mussolini was envious of Hitler's successes. It was a deep and silent jealousy. I was a friend of Mussolini, I knew him well. He was a remarkable man, but Europe was not of great concern to him. He did not like to be a spectator, watching Hitler winning everywhere. He felt compelled to do something himself, fast. Impulsively, he launched a senseless offensive against Greece.
His troops were immediately defeated. But it gave the British the excuse to invade Greece, which up till now had been uninvolved in the war. From Greece the British could bomb the Rumanian oil wells, which were vital to Germany's war effort. Greece could also be used to cut off the German troops on their way to Russia. Hitler was forced to quash the threat preemptively. He had to waste five weeks in the Balkans. His victories there were an incredible logistical achievement, but they delayed the start of the Russian campaign for five critical weeks.
If Hitler had been able to start the campaign in time, as it was planned, he would have entered Moscow five weeks before, in the sun of early fall, when the earth was still dry. The war would have been over, and the Soviet Union would have been a thing of the past. The combination of the sudden freeze and the arrival of fresh Siberian troops spread panic among some of the old Army generals. They wanted to retreat to 200 miles from Moscow. It is hard to imagine such inane strategy! The freeze affected Russia equally, from West to East, and to retreat 200 miles in the open steppes would only make things worse. I was commanding my troops in the Ukraine at the time and it was 42 degrees centigrade below zero.
Can you just imagine in 1941 half a million Germans fighting howling snowstorms, cut off from supplies, attacked from all sides by tens of thousands of Cossaks? I have faced charging Cossaks, and only the utmost superior firepower will stop them. In order to counter such an insane retreat, Hitler had to fire more than 30 generals within a few days.
It was then that he called on the Waffen SS to fill in the gap and boost morale. Immediately the SS held fast on the Moscow front. Right through the war the Waffen SS never retreated. They would rather die than retreat. One cannot forget the figures. During the 1941 winter, the Waffen SS lost 43,000 men in front of Moscow. The regiment Der Führer fought almost literally to the last man. Only 35 men survived out of the entire regiment. The Der Führer men stood fast and no Soviet troops got through. They had to try to bypass the SS in the snow. This is how famous Russian General Vlasov was captured by the Totenkopf SS division. Without their heroism, Germany would have been annihilated by December 1941.
Hitler knew that only sheer energy and guts, the refusal to surrender, the will to hang tough against all odds, would win the war.
The blizzards of the Russian steppes had shown how the best army in the world, the German Army, with thousands of highly trained officers and millions of highly disciplined men, was just not enough. Hitler realized they would be beaten, that something else was needed, and that only the unshakable faith in a high ideal could overcome the situation. The Waffen SS had this ideal, and Hitler used them from now on at full capacity.
From all parts of Europe volunteers rushed to help their German brothers. It was then that was born the third great Waffen SS. First there was the German, then the Germanic, and now there was the European Waffen SS. 125,000 would then volunteer to save Western Culture and Civilization. The volunteers joined with full knowledge that the SS incurred the highest death tolls. More than 250,000 out of one million would die in action. For them, the Waffen SS was, despite all the deaths, the birth of Europe. Napoleon said in St. Helena: "There will be no Europe until a leader arises."
The young European volunteers have observed two things: first, that Hitler was the only leader who was capable of building Europe and secondly that Hitler, and Hitler alone could defeat the world threat of Communism.
I discussed these issues at length with both Hitler and Himmler. Hitler like all men of genius had outgrown the national stage. Napoleon was first a Corsican, then a Frenchman, then a European and then a singularly universal man. Likewise Hitler had been an Austrian, then a German, then a greater German, then Germanic, then he had seen and grasped the magnitude of building Europe.
After the defeat of Communism the Waffen SS had a solemn duty to gather all their efforts and strength to build a united Europe, and there was no question that non-German Europe should be dominated by Germany.
Before joining the Waffen SS we had known very difficult conflicts. We had gone to the Eastern front first as adjunct units to the German army but during the battle of Stalingrad we had seen that Europe was critically endangered. Great common effort was imperative. One night I had an 8 hour debate with Hitler and Himmler on the status of non-German Europeans within the new Europe. For the present we expected to be treated as equals fighting for a common cause. Hitler understood fully and from then on we had our own flag, our own officers, our own language, our own religion. We had total equal status.
I was the first one to have Catholic padres in the Waffen SS. Later padres of all demoninations were available to all those who wanted them. The Islamic SS division had their own mullahs and the French even had a bishop! We were satisfied that with Hitler, Europeans would be federated as equals. We felt that the best way to deserve our place as equals was in this critical hour to defend Europe equally well as our German comrades.
What mattered above all for Hitler was courage. He created a new chivalry. Those who earn the order of the Ritterkreuz, meaning the cross of the knights, were indeed the new knights. They earned this nobility of courage. Each of our units going home after the war would be the force that would protect the peoples' rights in our respective countries. All the SS understood that European unity meant the whole of Europe, even Russia.
There had been a great lack of knowledge among many Germans regarding the Russians. Many believed that the Russians were all Communists while in fact, Russian representation in the Communist hierarchy was less than insignificant. They also believed that the Russians were diametrically opposite from the Europeans. Yet they have similar familial structures, they have an old civilization, deep religious faith and traditions which are not unlike those of other European countries.
The European SS saw the new Europe in the form of three great components; central Europe as the power house of Europe, western Europe as the cultural heart of Europe and eastern Europe as the potential of Europe. Thus the Europe the SS envisioned was alive and real. Its six hundred million inhabitants would live from the North Sea to Vladivostok. It was in this span of 8,000 miles that Europe could achieve its destiny. A space for young people to start new lives. This Europe would be the beacon of the world. A remarkable racial ensemble. An ancient civilization, a spirtitual force and the most advanced technological and scientific complex. The SS prepared for the high destiny of Europe.
Compare these aims, these ideals with the "Allies." The Roosevelts, the Churchills sold Europe out in Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam. They cravenly capitulated to the Soviets. They delivered half of the European continent to Communist slavery. They let the rest of Europe disintegrate morally, without any ideal to sustain it. The SS knew what they wanted: the Europe of ideals was salvation for all.
This faith in higher ideals inspired four hundred thousand German SS, three hundred thousand Volksdeutsche or Germanic SS and three hundred thousand other European SS. Volunteers all, one million builders of Europe.
The ranks of the SS grew proportionately with the growth of the war in Russia. The nearer Germany was to defeat the more volunteers arrived at the front. This was phenomenal; eight days before the final defeat I saw hundreds of young men join the SS on the front. Right to the end they knew they had to do the impossible to stop the enemy.
So from the one hundred and eighty-men strong Leibstandarte in 1933 to the SS regiments before 1939, to the three regiments in Poland, to the three divisions in France, to the six divisions at the beginning of the Russian war, to the 38 divisions in 1944, the Waffen SS reached 50 divisions in 1945. The more SS died, the more others rushed to replace them. They had faith and stood firm to the extreme limit, The exact reverse happened in January 1943 at Stalingrad. The defeat there was decided by a man without courage. He was not capable of facing danger with determination, of saying unequivocally: I will not surrender, I will stand fast until I win. He was morally and physically gutless and he lost.
A year later the SS Viking and the SS Wallonia divisions were encircled in the same way at Cherkassy. With the disaster of Stalingrad fresh in the minds of our soldiers they could have been subject to demoralization. On top of it I was laid down with a deep sidewound and 102 degree temperature. As general in command of the SS Wallonia forces I knew that all this was not conducive to high morale. I got up and for 17 days I led charge after charge to break the blockade, engaged in numerous hand-to-hand combats, was wounded four times but never stopped fighting. All my men did just as much and more. The siege was broken by sheer SS guts and spirit.
After Stalingrad, when many thought that all was lost, when the Soviet forces poured across the Ukraine, the Waffen SS stopped the Soviets dead in their tracks. They re-took Charkov and inflicted a severe defeat on the Soviet army.
I do know after the battle when the Germans were being pushed back the Russian offensive was halted by Feild Marshall von Manstein who had under his command 6 SS Panzer Divisions that had just been upgraded from Panzer Grenadier divisions in France. Von Manstein crushed the Russians in a great battle. Stalin wrote after that never had they been so close to defeat. The only thing that stopped the Germans was the rain and mud but they could have restarted the attack a few months later when the ground froze - instead Hitler waited tuntill the following summer so the new Tiger and Panthers could be used. Von Manstein called this milatary suicide.