Waffen-SS Musiker Training…

From the earliest days of the Third Reich, the Allgemeine-SS & SS-Verfügungstruppe had begun forming their own elite Musikkorps, so establishing the tradition for the SS leading the way in all things artistic & political and Hitler’s elite Bodyguard Division, the Leibstandarte-SS had successfully recruited fully-trained first-rate civilian professional musicians to join its ranks to establish itself in the pre-war years as Germany’s premier military band. As such it performed at all the most important military & ceremonial occasions in Berlin, including the Sportspalast Concert on January 30th 1934 to celebrate the first anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s spectacular ascent to power.

However, with the creation of the Waffen-SS and the sudden increase in the number of new Waffen-SS Musikkorps as a result, the SS-Musikinspektion  was determined to ensure a constant supply of highly trained  young musicians from within its own ranks by laying down very strong foundations for their formal musical education, having appointed a new generation of Waffen-SS Musikführer.

So a purpose-built Musikschule der Waffen-SS was set up within the grounds of the SS-Junkerschule at Braunschweig under SS-Hauptsturmführer Edgar Siedentopf and admitted its first intake of  60 pupils on July 1st 1940. Maintained & funded by the Reichsführung-SS and the City of Braunschweig, the school recruited its music teachers from the town’s civilian State Music Academy, whilst school discipline and tuition was provided & overseen by SS-NCOs on secondment from the Musikkorps of the Waffen-SS Division ‘Germania’.

The school boasted an impressive array of brass and percussion instruments, including some 40 upright & grand pianos and consisted of one large staff headquarters building which contained a big rehearsal room, several practice rooms, an administrative office and both a tailor’s & shoemaker’s workshop to service the school’s domestic requirements. In addition, there was a boarding house containing students’ dormitories, a dining hall & kitchen, and scattered around the school were 3 teaching huts, a further smaller rehearsal room, a gym and several sound-proofed practice rooms for individual student practice.

Young pupils who possessed previous musical training and passed the strict medical could enter the school on or after their 14th birthday for a period of four years and then sign up for a 12 year contract as a musician within the Musikkorps of the Waffen-SS, provided their parents had given clear, prior consent and were then able to contribute 25 Reichsmarks (approx. £2.00), a month towards their board & lodging, clothing and education.

The level of the student’s musical aptitude was ascertained through the sitting of an entrance exam and all successful students were then advised on the selection of a main instrument, (brass), and a secondary instrument, (strings). On-going student progress was tested throughout the year and, whilst at the school, pupils wore uniforms similar in style to the standard field-grey combat uniforms of the Waffen-SS (right). But on their black collar patch was an embroidered lyre, the epaulettes contained the monogram M.S. and the cuff-title worn on the lower right tunic arm bore the legend Musikschule Braunschweig in silver on black. To help further distinguish the young students from the general Waffen-SS rank and file, the young trainee musician’s wore the standard Hitler Jugend armband and silver belt buckle.

In 1942 the SS-Musikschule separated from the SS-Junkerschule to become a separate and totally independent unit, and by 1944 the number of students had risen from that initial 60 to 220, with SS-Haupsturmführer Eberhardt taking over command and head-ship of the school from SS-Sturmbannführer Siedentopf and in keeping with the SS-Musikinspektion’s aim of providing the Waffen-SS with only the finest musician’s available, the Musikschule Braunschweig also ensured that high achieving students could be selected for further training as future conductors & musical directors with SS-Officer rank.

Along with suitable musician’s already serving with existing Musikkorps within the Waffen-SS, selected Braunschweig students were recommended by their instructors for further training and ordered to Berlin to sit aptitude & entrance examinations for the Musikführer’s course, and successful candidates were then attached to the Staff Band, where training took place across a range of musical subjects.

The emphasis in music-leader training was obviously placed on conducting, and the SS-Staff Band was used both in this regard and for the performances of compositions actually written by the probationary musical leaders; as such these future Waffen-SS Musikführer were given a far more realistic and dynamic music leadership training than any other military music school within the Reich.The SS-Musikführer course finished with a final examination and following a pass the successful students were promoted to the rank of SS-Standarten-Oberjunker (trainee officers), with the expectation that they would eventually become musical directors of their own Musikkorps and an accompanying rank of SS-Untersturmbannführer.

It is worth noting that the only two SS-Musikmeister who were not formally trained were Musikmeister Hermann Müller-John and his number two Gustav Weissenborn, (right in civvies), both of the Musikkorps der SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, neatly illustrating the elite and exclusive image that the SS Bodyguard Division enjoyed in the eyes of Adolf Hitler and its Commanding Officer Sepp Dietrich.

Upon completion of their basic military training, Waffen-SS musicians were immediately assigned to the SS-Musikkorps that had suitable vacancies on offer, whereas some newly qualified Wehrmacht musicians, fresh out of basic training, had to wait and scan the notice-boards or the situations vacant pages of the musical magazine Deutsche Militärmusikerzeitung seeking out bands that were advertising for specific musicians.

Military musicians quite often found themselves having to suffer the ‘indignity’ of being assigned to other military duties whilst awaiting their full-time move to a regimental or corps band, for despite the regular flow of Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS musicians through basic military training, the German High Command issued strict regulations on the size of a unit’s military band, and new musicians would only be transferred to a band when there was a genuine vacancy.

An exception to this rule was the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’, whose elite band was much favoured by commanding officer Sepp Dietrich who firmly believed that a good Musikkorps reflected well on the whole regiment. Therefore whenever SS-LAH Musikmeister Hermann Müller-John slapped in a request for two more clarinettists or an additional oboist, Dietrich would say with a rueful grin, ‘haven’t you got enough already….?’, before turning a blind eye to the already over-subscribed Musikkorps line-up and approving the latest transfer. It was in this fashion that the SS-LAH Musikkorps grew from an original 48 musicians to 75 thence up to 120 musicians!

Once the new musical recruits had passed through basic military training and joined a Musikkorps, all Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS musicians were put onto the Wehrmacht Heeresdienstvorschrift (or Army Service Regulation) pay scale HDV 32 and were then very much considered to be full-time professionals. Now, in a complete reversal of their previous status during basic training, they were not expected to undertake any other military duties outside of their creative sphere during peace time and could concentrate fully on advancing their professional Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht military-musical careers.

The only exception to this order was their annual four weeks posting, as serving soldiers, back to a training company to ‘recapture’ their military skills acquired during basic training and to freshen up on what would become their secondary wartime roles as medics, communications personnel, drivers and motorcycle couriers. But once assigned to a Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS musikkorps, a musician’s instruments were then provided by the unit or regimental band, (the only exception being the 12.SS-Hitlerjugend who, due to their late formation in 1944, actually provided their own instruments), and then the business of performing professionally in public could really begin in earnest…

A typical military musician’s day in barracks usually consisted of full rehearsals of the Musikkorps each morning followed by individual practice and performance in the afternoon, with many evenings being taken up with small public concerts being staged to entertain the good folk of the garrison town and its outlying regions. Mornings normally began with marching practice for the full band, either practising new movements or brushing up on old ones and rehearsing the military marching repertoire, either on the parade ground or in fields behind the barracks; then it was time to sit down and work on specific concert pieces and performances including overtures and waltzes that would be performed at important public concerts…

Afternoons provided the opportunity for the individual musicians to lock themselves away in whichever quiet spot they could find (the attic, boiler or store room), and work undisturbed on their own specific instrument, before rejoining the band and travelling to the evening concert. This evening entertainment could take place in the local town hall or in the large hall of the local brewery or as an outdoor concert in the bandstand in the town park or perhaps as a more elaborate performance in the local theatre or concert hall. Particularly well received wherever they played were the dance band of the SS-Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ in the distinctive Waffen-SS white mess-jackets they always performed in!

For the German military career-musician, Sunday was always the most important day of the working week, with them often being required to perform full-scale concerts organised for the German civilian population most weeks. These were often in aid of the Deutsche Rotes Kreuz, or to entertain the workers at local factories during peace time. During the war years they were more likely to perform in support of the Winterhilfswerk (Winter Relief Fund), or visit military hospitals to entertain sick & wounded soldiers shipped back from the front…thus proving Goebbel’s maxim that military music was a vital tool in Third Reich’s Propaganda War..!

Copyright@ Brian Matthews 2014

Extracted from the book:  The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945                     Published by The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive.    ISBN 0-9542812-0-9

German Music in the Movies – Pt 2

Continuing the theme of tv & movie music sound-tracks, possibly the most repeated requests Tomahawk regularly receives relate to the identity of German marching songs whenever the satellite channels show their regular re-runs of Jeremy Isaac’s 1973 ground-breaking 26-part series The World at War. Featuring the most stunning film footage, the series is actually made by the spine-tingling Shakespearean tones of Sir Laurence Olivier.. (oh, to be able to deliver such mellifluous voice-overs as that.. I’d certainly die a happy man if I could come even close when I’m narrating WW-II documentaries!!).

But correctly identifying Third Reich Military Music/Nazi-era music tracks from a mere ‘description’ is not always easy, especially as Tomahawk Films was not actually in existence when that hallowed series was in production and so we did not contribute to that never-to-be-bettered, series. However in the late 1980s, when Tomahawk Films was happily up & running, we did market vast numbers of the World at War series during our early distributor days, though sadly we have never been able to access the Music Cue Sheets.

Nevertheless when pressed we still try to get our hands on the volume in question and offer an opinion to a customer desperate for an track I.D; and fortunately, we usually have a good bash at getting it right, (very often after a customer has hummed or whistled the tune down the ‘phone at us to give us a head-start in matching up his rendition to a track or commercial CD in our archive..and that happens on a good deal more occasions that you could probably imagine!!)

Probably the second most requested track customers call in to our Production Office about is the Panzer Song as featured in the 1965 Warner Brothers Hollywood epic movie Battle of the Bulge...

Directed by Ken Annakin and starring the movie world’s leading men of the day, such as Henry Fonda & Telly Savalas, (amongst a stellar cast of the great & the good), the leading German character of SS Colonel Hessler is/was played by the great Robert Shaw, (and believed, by some, to have been modelled on the true life of Waffen-SS Standartenfuehrer Joachim Peiper).

In the build-up to the film’s climax comes a memorable war-film scene so beloved of German military music fans when Hessler, (Shaw), is introduced to his new, young & very clean-cut tank commanders and, keen to demonstrate their bristling zeal & loyalty to their tank arm, they burst into a very moving acappella rendition of the Panzer Lied   for him, (i.e. unaccompanied in the manner of a Church or Welsh Choir), in something of a show-stopping performance!

But of course, (like the previously-discussed modern ‘Battle Of Britain March’), what you hear on screen is purely a movie confection, though very adroitly sung by the actors in the cast; however the actual Panzer Lied as sung in that marvellous scene is a true replication of the original and famous German Tanker’s song… and those singing it with much gusto on celluloid do an absolutely fantastic job, it has to be said!

However, Tomahawk Films does have a most superb acappella version of the Panzer Lied as sung by the original Waffen-SS Veteran Choir of Minden; composed of 50 former soldiers from the most famous SS Regiments, such as the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’, Wiking, Das Reich & Der Fuehrer, (and all now local members of the SS Alte Kameraden organisation), they all got together in a meeting room above a bier-keller in the German town of Minden to sing & record a selection of their most favoured marching songs from the war years, the evocative Panzer Lied being one of them….

The choir members had, previous to the recording, spent a long time gathering up together the sheet-music & lyrics to some of their favourite soldier songs, back from the days when they were very much in the vanguard as Hitler’s elite fighting men and, through our links with senior members of the Waffen-SS Veteran’s Organisation, we were very fortunate to be able to acquire the exclusive world rights to this fabulous recording which indeed includes that fabulous rendtion of the Panzer Lied.

We also acquired a second exclusive recording from the Minden SS-Soldatenchor in which a former Waffen-SS Stabshornist, (Company Bugler), Arthur Schulte, additonally performed, alongside more evocative accapella songs, a unique selection of 11 original Waffen-SS bugle calls, and Tomahawk re-mastered & released both of these superb, rare recordings on commercial CDs as Die Waffen-SS Alte Kameraden Singen and Soldatenlieder und Hornsignale der Waffen-SS.

The selection of their chosen soldier songs on both of our two CD releases is beautifully delivered, as you would expect, in their strong Bass & Tenor voices and, as with all of these emotive songs as sung by these SS Veterans, it certainly raises the hairs on the back of your neck when you listen in. Sadly however we have not yet been able to nail down a pre-1945 copy of the Panzer Lied as sung by war-time a Musikkorps und Chor, so this stunning post-war Veterans’ example will have to fill the gap for now…however we may stumble across that war-time version at some point along the way.

Meanwhile ‘Cross of Iron’ and ‘The Mackenzie Break’ are two other television-shown movies that we also regularly receive questions about because of their musical content…both excellent films in their own right and again we always know when they have just been given an airing on television as the ‘phone starts ringing soon afterwards regarding a particular Soldier Song from each film that the enthusiastic audience always wants us to identify for them…

Firstly, the 1977 Sam Peckinpah-directed Cross of Iron’ starring James Coburn as the hard-bitten Wehrmacht NCO Steiner and his bete noire Maximillian Schnell as the Infantry Officer Stransky who applies for transfer to the white-heat of combat on the Russian Front from a soft billet in France in an effort to finally win the infamous combat award of the movie’s title.

Filmed in Yugoslavia, in an effort to replicate the Kuban Bridgehead of 1943, the combat scenes have been described as some of the best ever shot, however one of the other memorable scenes is not a combat one, but a reflective moment involving a superb rendition of “Im Feldquartier”  which, if memory serves…and it is a long while since I have personally seen the movie… may have been sung by James Coburn’s grizzled character sitting by a camp fire.. (though Coburn was certainly not known for his singing skills so almost certainly an over-dub), nevertheless it is a most contemplative scene made all the more so because of the haunting melody of this very moving Soldier Song..!

However, whomsoever actually sang it in the movie, Tomahawk Films has a wonderful pre-1945 version of it as performed beautifully by the bass voice of Wilhelm Strienz… and in answer to those many such questions, this can be found, (along with his famous signature tune: ‘Gute Nacht Mutter’), on our CD: The Songs of Wilhelm Strienz 1935-1945

The other major ‘movie music question’ surrounds the equally watchable 1970 British-made & Lamont Johnson-directed The McKenzie Break’  which is another in that gripping line of classic PoW Films about captured German submariners & airmen imprisoned here in the UK.

Starring Helmut Griem, Brian Keith & Ian Hendry, a sinister German U-Boot Commander (played by Griem) sets about challenging the authority of the British Camp Commander, (as played by the legendary Hendry), as he plans a mass breakout of his men from the Prisoner of War camp..

Based on a true story surrounding a war-time escape attempt from a German PoW camp in Cumbria, the location of this fictional camp is set in Scotland and during an intense tale involving the murder of a German prisoner, a game of ‘cat & mouse’ is played out between the opposing sides…and in one of the earlier scenes the German ‘actor-prisoners’ perform a superb acappella version of ‘Erika’

One of the most popular of all German period marching songs, Tomahawk Films posses a number of superb and differing versions of ‘Erika’, both in our Archive and on CD… one of the best being a full Musikkorps und Chor version on our CD release: Musik in der Luftwaffe…

As a German marching song, ‘Erika’ is hard to beat and it also holds up very well when performed and sung with a lighter tempo & delivery by a Third Reich civilian orchestra, such as the The Heyn Quartett as featured on our most evocative 2-CD set entitled Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht..

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012