Hitler‘s own Generals tried to assassinate him on July 20, 1944, to end Nazi Germany’s all-out commitment to a war that was now clearly lost. But the assassination attempt failed. Hitler took revenge by purging the General Staff of anyone deemed suspicious or exhibiting defeatist behavior. Nearly 200 officers and others were killed, in some cases, slowly hanged from meat hooks.
Germany under Hitler would now fight-on to the very last, utilizing every available human and material resource. In September, Hitler Youth Leader Artur Axmann proclaimed: “As the sixth year of war begins, Adolf Hitler’s youth stands prepared to fight resolutely and with dedication for the freedom of their lives and their future. We say to them: You must decide whether you want to be the last of an unworthy race despised by future generations, or whether you want to be part of a new time, marvelous beyond all imagination.”
With the Waffen-SS and regular army now depleted of men, Hitler ordered Hitler Youth boys as young as fifteen to be trained as replacements and sent to the Russian Front. Everyone, both young and old, would be thrown into the final fight to stop the onslaught of “Bolshevik hordes” from the East and “Anglo-American gangsters” from the West.
On September 25, 1944, anticipating the invasion of the German Fatherland, the Volkssturm (People’s Army)
was formed under the overall command of Joseph Goebbels. Every available male aged 16 to 60 was conscripted into this new army and trained to use the Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon. Objections to using even younger boys were ignored.
In the Ruhr area of Germany, HJ boys practiced guerrilla warfare against invading U.S. troops. In the forests, the boys stayed hidden until the tanks had passed, waiting for the foot soldiers. They would then spring up, shoot at them and throw grenades, inflicting heavy causalities, then dash away and disappear back into the forest. The Americans retaliated with furious air-attacks and leveled several villages in the surrounding area.
If the boys happened to get cornered by American patrols, they often battled until the last boy was killed rather than surrender. And the boys kept getting younger. American troops reported capturing armed 8-year-olds at Aachen in Western Germany and knocking out artillery units operated entirely by boys aged twelve and under. Girls were also used now, operating the 88mm anti-aircraft guns alongside the boys.
In February 1945, project Werewolf began, training German children as spies and saboteurs, intending to send them behind Allied lines with explosives and arsenic. But the project came to nothing as most of these would-be saboteurs were quickly captured or killed by the Allies as they advanced into the Reich.
At the Pichelsdorf bridges, 5.000 boys, wearing man-sized uniforms several sizes too big and helmets that flopped around on their heads, stood by with rifles and Panzerfausts
, ready to oppose the Russian Army. Within five days of battle, 4.500 had been killed or wounded. In other parts of Berlin, HJ boys met similar fates. Many committed suicide rather than be taken alive by the Russians.