There are few German formations surrounded by as much legend and notoriety as the Hitler Youth Division. There is very good reason for that. The 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend” was one of the premier formations of the entire Nazi military apparatus despite being composed largely of boys below the age of 18. Let’s take a look at the 12 SS Panzer Division’s history, from birth to death.
Amid a dwindling supply of manpower, the existence of an entire generation of ideologically pure boys, raised as Nazis, eager to fight for the Fatherland
and even die for the Führer, could not be ignored. The result was the formation of the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend.
The idea for the Waffen-SS division was first proposed by Arthur Axmann, the Nazi leader of the Hitler Youth to Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler in early 1943. The plan for a combat division made up of Hitler Youth members born in 1926 was passed on to Adolf Hitler for his approval. Hitler approved the plan in February and SS-Gruppenführer Gottlob Berger was tasked with recruiting.
A recruitment drive began, drawing principally on 17-year-old volunteers, but younger members 16 and under eagerly joined. During July and August 1943, some 10.000 recruits arrived at the training camp in Beverloo, Belgium.
To fill out the HJ Division with enough experienced soldiers and officers, Waffen-SS survivors from the Russian Front, including members of the elite Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler, were brought in. Fifty officers from the Wehrmacht, who were former Hitler Youth leaders, were also reassigned to the division. The remaining shortage of squad and section leaders was filled with Hitler Youth members who had demonstrated leadership aptitude during HJ paramilitary training exercises. The division was placed under of the command of 34-year-old SS Brigade Führer Fritz Witt,
who had also been a Hitler Youth, dating back before 1933.
The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was the 12th German Waffen SS armored division, which fought during the last phase of World War II. The majority of its enlisted men in the Hitlerjugend Division were very young men, teenagers, drawn from members of the Hitler Youth born in 1926. The division first saw action on June 7, 1944, as part of the German defense of the Caen area during the Normandy campaign.
As the German Military was having a serious shortage of manpower after the surrender of the 6th Army under Fieldmarshal Friedrich von Paulus at Stalingrad in February 1943, plans were put forth to create a 12th division in the Waffen-SS. Unlike some other divisions which were made up of foreign volunteers, this division would be created using the all German members of the Hitler Youth.
In September 1943, over 16.000 recruits had completed their basic training and were listed on the rosters of the SS Panzergrenadier Division Hitlerjugend. When the division was further training continued in Beverloo, Belgium, it was notified that it was to be formed as a panzer rather than a panzergrenadier unit. In October 1943 the division received its final designation, 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. Many of the recruits were so young that they were supplied with sweets and candies instead of the standard tobacco and alcohol ration.
In April 1944 the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend moved into its reserve area northwest of Paris and was declared fully operational. On D-Day, June 6, 1944 it was ordered to operate on the left flank of the 21st Panzer Division under Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger and throw the enemy west of the Orne into the sea and destroy him. When the Allies took the Normandy beaches and its surrounding areas, the SS Division Hitlerjugend, which consisted of 20.540 men, marched into the area to the north and west of the city of Caen.
The British and Canadian troops had been ordered to capture Caen within 24 hours of the D-Day landings. On the morning of June 7 the Hitlerjugend Division attacked and delivered many stinging defeats to the allies on that first day of battle. This SS Division fought so ferociously that they kept the allies from taking Caen for over a month. The British and Canadian outnumbered these young German SS soldiers both in men and material, but the fighting spirit of this elite division stopped operations ‘Epsom’ and ‘Goodwood’ in their tracks.
The 12th SS Panzer Division had famous leaders, as the last commander SS-Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer, SS-Brigadeführer Hugo Kraas
After the invasion battles the division was sent to Germany for refitting and on December 16, 1944, was once again sent to the front. The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend fought against the Americans at the Battle of the Bulge, in the Ardennes forest. After the failure of the Ardennes counteratack, the division was sent east to fight the Red Army near Budapest, but eventually withdrew into Austria.
The SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend surrendered near the town of Enns to the troops of the 65th Infantry Division, nickname “Battle Axe” commanded by Major General Stanley Eric Reinhart. to the Americans in Enns on May 8, 1945 with a strength of about 10.000 men. Proud and defiant until the end, they refused to drape their vehicles with white flags as ordered by the Americans and instead marched into captivity as if on the parade ground. After the war’s end, several members of the division, including Kurt Meyer, were convicted of war crimes.
The division committed its first massacre while en route to Normandy. The division executed 86 French men on 1 April 1944 in Ascq, France, in a reprisal against the civilian population after the railway they were traveling on was sabotaged. The commander of the convoy, SS-Obersturmführer Walter Hauck , ordered troops to search and arrest all male members of the houses on both sides of the track. Altogether 70 men were shot beside the railway line and another 16 killed in the village itself. In 1949, Hauck was put on trial in Lille, France and was sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. He was freed in 1957 after a further sentence reduction. Hauck died old age 88 on 06-11-2006.