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The 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
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[QUOTE="pardus, post: 27663, member: 16"] 1943 marked the military turning point for Hitler's Reich. In January, the German Sixth Army was destroyed by the Soviets at Stalingrad. In May, the last German strongholds in North Africa fell to the Allies. In July, the massive German counter-attack against the Soviets at Kursk failed. The Allies invaded Italy. An Allied front in northern Europe was anticipated. The war would only end with the "unconditional surrender" of Germany and its Axis partners, as stated by President Franklin Roosevelt at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. In February, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels retaliated by issuing a German declaration of "Total War." 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. A recruitment drive began, drawing principally on 17-year-old volunteers, but younger members 16 and under eagerly joined. During July and August 1943, 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 para-military training exercises. The division was placed under of the command of 34-year-old Maj. Gen. Fritz Witt, who had also been a Hitler Youth, dating back before 1933. Among his young troops, morale was high. Traditional, stiff German codes of conduct between officers and soldiers were replaced by more informal relationships in which young soldiers were often given the reasons behind orders. Unnecessary drills, such as goose-step marching were eliminated. Lessons learned on the Russian Front were applied during training to emphasize realistic battlefield conditions, including the use of live ammunition. By the spring of 1944, training was complete. The HJ Panzer Division, now fully trained and equipped, conducted divisional maneuvers observed by Gen. Heinz Guderian and Field Marshal von Rundstedt, both of whom admired the enthusiasm and expressed their high approval of the proficiency achieved by the young troops in such a short time. The division was then transferred to Hasselt, Belgium, in anticipation of D-Day, the Allied invasion of northern France. A few days before the invasion, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler visited the division. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the HJ Division was one of three Panzer divisions held in reserve by Hitler as the Allies stormed the beaches at Normandy beginning at dawn. At 2:30 in the afternoon, the HJ Division was released and sent to Caen, located not far inland from Sword and Juno beaches on which British and Canadian troops had landed. The division soon came under heavy strafing attacks from Allied fighter bombers, which delayed arrival there until 10 p.m. The HJ were off to face an enemy that now had overwhelming air superiority and would soon have nearly unlimited artillery support. The Allies, for their part, were about to have their first encounter with Hitler's fanatical boy-soldiers. The shocking fanaticism and reckless bravery of the Hitler Youth in battle astounded the British and Canadians who fought them. They sprang like wolves against tanks. If they were encircled or outnumbered, they fought-on until there were no survivors. Young boys, years away from their first shave, had to be shot dead by Allied soldiers, old enough, in some cases, to be their fathers. The "fearless, cruel, domineering" youth Hitler had wanted had now come of age and arrived on the battlefield with utter contempt for danger. This soon resulted in the near destruction of the entire division. By the end of its first month in battle, 60 percent of the HJ Division was knocked out of action, with 20 percent killed and the rest wounded and missing. Divisional Commander Witt was killed by a direct hit on his headquarters from a British warship. Command then passed to Kurt Meyer, nicknamed 'Panzermeyer,' who at age 33, became the youngest divisional commander in the entire German armed forces. After Caen fell to the British, the HJ Division was withdrawn from the Normandy Front. The once confident fresh-faced Nazi youths were now exhausted and filthy, a sight which "presented a picture of deep human misery" as described by Meyer. In August, the Germans mounted a big counter-offensive toward Avranches, but were pushed back from the north by the British and Canadians, and by the Americans from the east, into the area around Falaise. Twenty four German divisions were trapped inside the Falaise Pocket with a narrow 20 mile gap existing as the sole avenue of escape. The HJ Division was sent to keep the northern edge of this gap open. However, Allied air superiority and massive artillery barrages smashed the HJ as well as the Germans trapped inside the pocket. Over 5,000 armored vehicles were destroyed, with 50,000 Germans captured, while 20,000 managed to escape, including the tattered remnants of the HJ. By September 1944, the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend numbered only 600 surviving young soldiers, with no tanks and no ammunition. Over 9,000 had been lost in Normandy and Falaise. The division continued to exist in name only for the duration of the war, as even younger (and still eager) volunteers were brought in along with a hodgepodge of conscripts. The division participated in the failed Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes offensive) and was then sent to Hungary where it participated in the failed attempt to recapture Budapest. On May 8, 1945, numbering just 455 soldiers and one tank, the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend surrendered to the American 7th Army. [url]http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/hitleryouth/hj-boy-soldiers.htm[/url] [/QUOTE]
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The 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend