My understanding is that there would have been differences between being a Wehrmacht Panzer Major and an SS Panzer Major. What would those differences be?
The Wehrmacht was the military of the nation of Germany, the German army was the Heer. The SS (Schutzstaffel) was the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party, the Waffen-SS was its military wing. In theory, the Wehrmacht was under the control of the government of Germany while the SS was under the control of the Nazi Party. They had different ranks, recruitment, organizations, command structure, and supply. However, the lines between the Nazi Party and the nation of Germany increasingly blurred during WW2. They are all the military of the Nazi Empire.
Hitler made this clear in an August 17, 1938 decree. The SS was his, but he would loan it to the Wehrmacht.
Die SS-Verfügungstruppe ist weder ein Teil der Wehrmacht noch der Polizei. Sie ist eine stehende bewaffnete Truppe zu meiner ausschließlichen Verfügung. Im Kriegsfalle soll sie im Rahmen des Heeres eingesetzt werden oder im Bedarfsfalle im Inneren nach meinen Weisungen.
The SS available troops [SS-VT, predecessor to the Waffen-SS] are neither part of the Wehrmacht nor the police. She is a standing armed force at my [Hitler's] exclusive disposal. In the event of war it should be used within the framework of the army or, if necessary, internally according to my instructions.
In times of war, the Waffen-SS could and was often placed under the operational control of the Wehrmacht as was done in August 19, 1938 in preparation for war with Czechoslovakia.
Die Truppenteile der SS-Verfügungstruppe werden mit sofortiger Wirkung dem Oberkommando der Wehrmacht unterstellt.
With immediate effect, the units of the SS available troops [SS-VT] will be placed under the command of the Wehrmacht. The Commander-in-Chief of the Army regulates their use according to the instructions I [Hitler] have given.
And on April 22, 1940 all armed forces of the SS were merged into the Waffen-SS.
Auf Befehl des RfSS sind alle unter den Waffen stehenden Einheiten der SS in der Waffen-SS zusammengeschlossen.
On the orders of the RfSS [Reichfurher-SS], all SS units under arms are united in the Waffen-SS. The terms SS-Einsatzstruppe and SS-Totenkopfverbände are no longer to be used.
Waffen-SS units could be of non-German nationality. Italian, Russian, Hungarian, Croatian, even Dutch and French Waffen-SS divisions were raised.
If this seems redundant and wasteful, it is. Nazi Germany was designed to play various powerful groups against each other to keep Hitler in charge. The Waffen-SS gave Hitler a counter-balance against the Wehrmacht. They all ultimately answered to Hitler, and they had to rely on him to resolve their conflicts.
101st Heavy Tank Battalion
The Schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 101 (101st Heavy Tank Battalion) formed from the 13th Heavy Tank Company.
The 13th had 5 platoons of 5 Tiger Is each, plus a tank each for the company commander and HQ making 27 tanks. Platoons were lead by SS-Untersturmführers (SS-Junior Assault Leader) equivalent to a Wehrmacht Leutnant or Allied 2nd Lt. Michael Wittmann commanded 1st platoon. The lowest ranked tank commander would be an SS-Unterscharführer (SS-Junior squad leader) equivalent to a Unteroffizier or a US Sergeant.
After returning from the Eastern Front, the 13th was reorganized and reinforced into the 101st Heavy Tank Battalion of 3 tank companies of 3 platoons. Each platoon had 4 Tiger 1s. Each company HQ had 2 Tiger 1s. 14 tanks per company. Battalion HQ had 3. 45 Tiger 1s. On paper.
A heavy tank battalion would also have a staff company including engineer, recon, communications, and anti-aircraft platoons. A workshop company. And all the necessary vehicles: self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, half-tracks, recovery vehicles, motorcycles, staff cars, cranes, and lots of trucks. On paper.
Note that despite having 3 companies the 101st Heavy Tank Battalion had only twice the Tigers as the 13th Heavy Tank Company. Fewer platoons with fewer tanks. This thinning out of units to make formations seem more powerful was common practice in the late war German army.
At Villers-Bocage, Wittman's 2nd company was below 50% strength. Of the 14 paper Tigers, he had just 5 or 6 operational. Under-strength units were very common in the German military. His company had barely 25% of the tanks of his old 13th Heavy Tank Company. Normally he would have 3 platoons of 4 Tigers, but with so few it is likely he reorganized them into a single unit under his command. Such ad-hoc kampfgruppe were common in the German military.
Wittmann's chain of command
Michael Wittmann, then an SS-Obersturmführer (SS-Senior assault leader, roughly a 1st Lieutenant), was given command of the 2nd company of the 101st. After Villers-Bocage he was promoted to Hauptsturmführer (head assault leader) of the Waffen-SS after, equivalent to a Wehrmacht Hauptmann or a US Army Captain. See Ranks and Insignia of the SS for comparisons. Hauptsturmführer is an appropriate rank for a company commander. Obersturmführer was a little low, possibly reflecting his previous post as a platoon leader.
As a Waffen-SS officer he was an officer of the SS and the Nazi Party, not the Wehrmacht. However, his superiors could be placed under Wehrmacht command.
The 101st was commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer (SS-Senior assault unit leader) Heinz von Westernhagen, roughly equivalent to a Oberstleutnant or Lieutenant Colonel two ranks above Wittman. This is the appropriate rank for a battalion commander.
When von Westernhagen was wounded, Wittmann assumed command of the battalion.
Normally a battalion would be attached to a regiment and the regiment attached to a division, the division to an army, and so on. But the 101st was an independent battalion under the direct command of the I.SS-Panzerkorps (1st SS Tank Corps) to be used as the corps commander saw fit. It was the corps' reserve.
1st SS Tank Corps was commanded by SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS (SS-Supreme group leader and colonel general of the Waffen-SS) Josef "Sepp" Dietrich equivalent to a Generaloberst or a 4-star US General. This is the highest commissioned rank in the SS. Normally a corps commander would be a rank lower, a Lieutenant General, but at the time a corps was the largest SS formation and the 1st SS Tank Corps was the most powerful. It would not be until the formation of the 6. Panzerarmee (6th SS Tank Army) for the Battle of the Bulge, also commanded by Dietrich.
Normally Dietrich would be subordinate only to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler who in turn answered only to Hitler. But at the time of Villers-Bocage the 1st SS Tank Corps was attached to Panzergruppe West (Panzer Group West) of the Heer (Wehrmacht army) commanded by General der Panzertruppe (Lt. General) Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg. On June 10th he was wounded when his HQ was attacked and operational command was taken over by Sepp Dietrich.
Panzer Group West would normally be under the control of OBW (Oberbefehlshaber West / "High Commander in the West") Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt. OBW was under OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht / High Command of the Armed Forces (but only the Wehrmacht)) Generalfeldmarschall Kietel. OKW reported to Führer und Reichskanzler, Hitler. But at the time of the Normandy landings, Hitler had taken direct control of Panzer Group West. Not even OKW could direct them without Hitler's say so.
You may notice that while the Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy) are subordinate to their respective high commands, OKL and OKM, the Heer (Army) units are not subordinate to OKH. They are subordinate to OKW, Wehrmacht High Command. You may also notice that neither OKW nor OBW (the supposed "High Commander in the West") control the Luftwaffe nor Kriegsmarine units in the West, they only control the Heer. In practice, OKH (directly commanded by Hitler) ran the Heer in the East, OKW ran the Heer in the West, and the OKL and OKM answered directly to Hitler. This fragmented and confused chain of command would hamper German strategic coordination.
After the invasion, Panzer Group West fought under Army Group B under Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshall / 5-star General) Erwin Rommel.
So at Villers-Bocage, Wittmann's chain of command was...
- 2nd Company, SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann
- 101st Heavy Tank Battalion, SS-Obersturmbannführer von Westerhagen
- 1st SS Tank Corps, SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer Sepp Dietrich
- Tank Group West, General der Panzertruppe Schweppenburg (SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer Sepp Dietrich temporarily in command)
- Army Group B, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel
- OBW, Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt
- OKW, Generalfeldmarschall Kietel
- Führer und Reichskanzler, Hitler