By: Mpho Khalo, Junior Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History


The power of one man


Figure 1. Adolf Hitler: (Photo: Source Internet).


Adolf Hitler who turned Germany into a military powerhouse, became the leader of a fledgling political organisation called the National Socialist German Workers Party (NAZI), in 1921. The party promoted extreme German Nationalist and antisemitism and was dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the peace settlement that ended the first World War.

On the 4th of April 1925 the Nazi Party founded the major paramilitary wing under Adolf Hitler called the Schutzstaffel (SS). The organisation was originally established to become Adolf Hitler’s private army, and this was done just after his release from prison in 1924. Adolf Hitler was sentenced for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch (also known as the Munich Putsch) of November 8, 1923. He was charged with treason after the failed coup d’état by Hitler’s Nazi Party. He was found guilty and eventually sentenced to nine months in prison just enough time to write his political testament. The SS organisation had to protect Hitler during events and private functions. However, the SS was more of a small sub-division of the Sturmabteilung (original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party), commonly known as the SA. The SS was, however, more loyal to Adolf Hitler.

On the 6th of January 1929, Heinrich Himmler, a leading member of the Nazi Party was appointed commander (Reichsführer) of the SS. Under his leadership he started a small guard unit consisting of approximately 300 members. They were all party members who volunteered to provide security during party meetings in Munich. The SS grew from a small paramilitary formation during the Weimar Republic (German Reich) to one of the most powerful wings in Nazi Germany. Between 1934 and 1936 Himmler and his chief adjutant, Reinhard Heydrich, consolidated the SS’ strength by gaining control of the entire German police force. This led to expanding the activities and the responsibilities of the special military SS until.


The rise to power


Figure 2. Adolf Hitler with Ernst Röhm to his right all dressed in service dress.

(Photo: Encyclopaedia of World War Two)


After four years under the guidance of Himmler the SS evolved into a first-rate paramilitary unit and Adolf Hitler as the master of the army consolidating all the power and eventually eliminating all their enemies. This resulted in the major transformation of the German army by Hitler. He was never afraid of war due to the power he possessed, and no one was to undermine the German revolution. Adolf Hitler played an important role in turning Germany into a military powerhouse during the 1930s and the early 1940s. He reinvented most of his childhood ideas into the SS and Heinrich Himmler as the general to exceed them. Himmler was one of the most powerful men after Hitler in Nazi Germany. Hitler was a great reader and an artist who understood the power of art.


In 1933 when Adolf Hitler came into power Germany was still recovering from the political and economic turmoil of the first World War and the great depression. However, Hitler then applied an aggressive foreign policy making sure that he rearmed the military to strengthen and help expand the German power in Europe. His military build-up was based on a doctrine of total war and his belief in the importance of a strong military as the foundation of national power.

He invested heavily in military technology and research and under his leadership Germany developed new weapons such as the Panzer tank, the Messerschmitt fighter plane, and the V-2 rocket. Hitler’s expansionist policies ultimately led to World War II which began with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Britain and France immediately declared war on Germany. However, by 1942 the tide of the war began to turn against Germany. The country suffered a series of devastating defeats on both the eastern and western fronts.


The final recruit and the brutal end


Figure 3. The final phase of war (Source: History of Germany).

Hitler’s teen troops were conditioned to kill and inflicting terror, breaking all the rules of war and humanity. This division was trained to kill soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians living trails of blood. They were prepared to lay down their lives for Adolf Hitler who turned them into killing machines. This occurred in 1943 when Germany had thousands of soldiers. To reinforce the army, he recruited teens (16 and 17 years of age) to form the 12 SS Panzer Division. Most of its junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth. However, some shoot themselves in Berlin because they did not have the mental strength to be in the war. Kurt Meyer or famously known as Panzer Meyer was the leading figure and role model who has tested combat at all fronts. He played a father figure to all the recruits. He never sat behind his desk and always led from the front. The division took the oath and swore allegiance to Adolf Hitler until death. They would then sing “we are marching for Hitler through the night and through the danger, carrying the flag of youth; our flag flutters at the fore yes the flag means more than death.”

Despite Hitler’s efforts to turn Germany into a ‘military powerhouse’ the war ultimately ended in defeat. The country was left devastated with its economy in ruins and much of its infrastructure destroyed. Laying down their weapons was never an option until when their father Adolf Hitler take his own life on the 30th of April 1945 in the Führer bunker of his destroyed Chancellery in Berlin.



 Hitler never wanted to listen to his generals even when he was told that they could not win the war.  In his mind he believed that they could win as this was his childhood mentality. Germany could not produce and supply enough weapons for the SS division. The legacy of Hitler’s military build-up and aggressive foreign policy continue to be a subject of debate and study among historians and political scientists. The survivors believed that it was wrong for Hitler and Himmler to form the SS because this has created monsters out of teen soldiers.

The story of indoctrinating young minds into fighting and wars will remain with us for a very long time.



Otto Zierer, 1971. Concise History of Great Nations (History of Germany), Publisher: Leon Amiel.

Editorial Director: Shirley Hew, Managing Editor: Shova Loh: Cultures of the world Germany.

Encyclopaedia of World War Two, Hitler’s War (1936 to 1939).

Evert Kleynhans, 2021. Hitler’s Spies. Secret Agents and the Intelligence War in South Africa, Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers.

V.K. Vinogradov, J. F. Pogonyi and N. V. 2005. Teptzov,  Hitler’s Death: Russia’s Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB, United States: Chaucer Press.





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