SS Blood Group Tattoo
The SS Blood group tattoo was applied, in theory, to all Waffen-SS (W-SS) members. It was a small black ink tattoo located on the underside of the left arm, usually near the armpit. It generally measured around 7mm long, and placed roughly 20cm above the elbow. The tattoo consisted of the soldier’s blood type letter, either A, B, (AB?) or O. The discovery of the Rhesus factor had been made in 1937, but was not fully understood during WWII, so was not implemented. In Early war tattoos were also printed in a Gothic style lettering, while late war tattoos were printed in a Latin style lettering.
Example of a blutgruppentaetowierung (Blood Group ‘A’)
The idea behind the tattoo was that if a soldier needed a blood transfusion, and he was unconscious, or his erkennungsmarke (dog tag) or soldbuch (pay book) was missing, the doctor could still find out the soldiers blood type by locating the tattoo. The tattoo was generally applied by the units sanitater (medic) in basic training, but could have been applied by anyone assigned to do it, at any time in the soldiers career. Before the tattoo was thought up, a wounded soldier would be matched for a transfusion with another with the same blood group, (which would be found in their soldbuch or erkennungsmarke) then if there was no reaction within ten minutes of the blood being transfused between the patient and donor, it would be assumed the blood group was the same. The tattoo was thought up by ??????? in ????, and stems from the idea of W-SS men being more valuable to the reich than other Wehrmacht soldiers. In reality, it was just another idea to further raise the SS on a pedestal. Not all W-SS men had the tattoo, in particular, those who had transferred from other branches of service to the W-SS, or those who transferred from the Allgemeine SS. Not only W-SS members had the tattoo, because if a member of any other branch of the Wehrmacht was treated in a SS hospital, they would generally have the tattoo applied.
The tattoo was applied to most in the early war years, but gradually over the course of the war was applied to less and less soldiers, and by late war, having the tattoo applied was more the exception rather than the rule. The application of the tattoo to foreign volunteers seems to be a contentious issue with some, such as the Britische Frei Korps (BFC) whose terms of service stated that they did not need to have the tattoo, but other foreign units seem to have had no problem with the tattoo being applied to their persons. Very little information exists regarding the tattoo and foreign units, but it is claimed by some that Charlemagne (33.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne) men had the tattoo applied, and no doubt many other foreign members of the W-SS did too.
Johann Voss, of 6.SS-Gebrigs-Division "Nord", did not have tattoo applied although the rest of his training company did, as he was visiting his father on that particular day, so this just goes to show that even in relatively orderly situations, not all W-SS men had the tattoo.
When the war ended, the Allies were keen to catch all W-SS members on account of the high volume of war crimes commited by some units. The blood group tattoo helped greatly in identifying former members, leading to the prosecution of guilty men, and in some cases the execution of W-SS men, regardless of what they had or had not done during the war. Many W-SS men tried to remove the tattoo, some by burning it off with a lit cigarette, but the scar left behind was almost as incriminating, leading some to make a similar scar on the opposite side of the their arm, and claiming the scars were from a bullet which had passed through their arm. In these cases, the Allies would X-ray the arm to see if any bone damage had occurred, as would have if a bullet had passed through the arm at those points.
While a good idea in theory, I have not seen one recorded instance of a soldier dying because he was given the wrong type of blood, as his blood type was recorded in at least two other places. Ultimately, the tattoo served as a mark to identify W-SS soldiers, when many would have wished to go incognito.
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Author – Donald “Jock” Keddie - September 2006
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