The origins of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend can be traced back to
late 1942 and early '43 when, the idea to create a "Hitlerjugend" division was
first put forward by Gruppenführer Gottlob Berger for Hitler's consideration..
His vision called for the drafting of all Hitlerjugend members born in 1926 and
assigning them to the same combat formation. Hitler liked the idea, ordered
Berger to begin organising the division and the official order was issued on
the 10th of February, 1943. Berger nominated himself to be the first divisional
commander However Himmler gave that duty to Oberführer Fritz Witt instead; a
former Hitler Youth member.
In April of 1943, Hitler signed off on a number of additional decrees relating
to the formation of the "Hitlerjugend" Panzer Grenadier Division. One of which
called for the German Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD) to release a number of HJ
members for immediate transfer to the new embryonic formation. A number of
pre-requisites however had to be met before a final transfer to the HJ division
was officially approved:
a minimum height of 170cm/5ft.7in. was required for HJ Division infantrymen;
a minimum height of 168cm/5ft.6in. was required for HJ Division armour, FLAK,
etc., troops; and,
all recruits would undergo an initial six week, pre-basic WEL training camp.
On May 1st, 1943, the first group of 8,000 volunteers reported to the WEL
camps. Of note is that of these, 6,000 were sent to the WEL camps and 2,000
were directed to attend advanced or special military training camps. Because
the planning officials were not able to adhere to their desired six week
training classes (and probably because they were under great pressures to
expedite the training and subsequent combat availability of the new division),
they shortened the training time by two weeks. On July 1st, 1943, the
graduating class of 8,000 trainees were released for service in the division.
That same day, a second group of 8,000 HJ boys was ready to enter the training.
By the 1st of September, 1943, 16,000 trained recruits were listed on the
rosters of the newly formed "Hitlerjugend" division.
On June 24th, 1943, an order was issued that the SS "Hitlerjugend" division
would be formed as the 12th SS Panzer Grenadier Division "Hitlerjugend".
However, by October 30th, 1943, this was amended and the division re-organised
into a full SS Panzer Division and troopers were assembled at an SS training
facility located in Beverloo, Belgium.
To ensure the reatest chance of combat success and to attain an adequate mix of
seasoned military veterans to young recruits, a number of SS veterans, mostly
from the eastern front, were attached to the new Division. A large percentage
of these experienced individuals came from the 1st SS Panzer Division, the
"Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" (LSSAH)., which is why many HJ SS Panzer
Grenadier members often carried "LSSAH cuff titles" on their uniforms in the
early period. A smaller percentage of Army (Heer) officers, who also had
previously been HJ leaders, were transferred to the Division as well. Many of
the lower level control and command positions went to HJ members who had
received exceptionally high marks in leadership and military training skills
during their days before and right after the start of the war.
During this period, many of the usual training rules and regulations were
tossed aside for the new SS troopers. The battle hardened eastern front SS and
Army veterans taught the new SS Panzer Grenadiers all they could with the
allotted time using realistic combat scenarios amalgamated with many live-fire
training exercises. Formality and drill practices were replaced by practical
combat lessons. As a result, morale was at a very high level in the entire
After their training period had been completed they were deemed ready for
release to the western front. Shortly before June 6th, 1944, the Division was
moved from its training camp in Beverloo to the town of Hasselt, also in
Belgium and was held as a reserve unit to help check the anticipated Allied
On the morning of June 6th, 1944, the Allies landed on the coast of Normandy.
The western front now officially existed. At 14:30 hours, June 6th, 1944, the
Division was ordered to proceed to Caen which was in close proximity to the
British and Canadian landing sites of "Juno" and "Sword". As soon as they
arrived in the area, they came under heavy and relentless Allied air attacks.
As a result, the Division did not make it to its assigned attack positions
until late that night.
Fighting with determination and tenacity the division began to suffer
horrendous casualties. In their first engagement with the Canadians, they
destroyed 28 Canadian tanks while losing only 6 soldiers for their efforts.
Although they fought with a high degree of courage, the odds were against them
in the long run. In slightly over one month, the Division had lost over 60 per
cent of its forces due to combat actions. 20 per cent were killed and the rest
of the 40 per cent were either wounded or MIA. The divisional commander, Fritz
Witt, was killed when British naval fire hit his regional command centre.
Command passed to Kurt "Panzermeyer" Meyer who, at 33, became the youngest
divisional commander in the entire German army.
After the British and Canadian forces had captured Caen, the Division was one
of the 24 German combat divisions, which became encircled in the Falaise
pocket. At this time, the Division was ordered to hold the German lines on the
northern edge of the pocket so that the trapped divisions could escape as best
they could. Along with 20,000 other Germans they managed to escape- but over
50,000 assorted German forces were trapped in the Falaise pocket and
surrendered to the Allies.
Although the Normandy campaign survivors of the Division fought with as much
courage and dedication as they did a month earlier, but in the long run, they
were fighting a losing battle. By September of 1944, only 1,500-3,500+ troopers
survived. They had lost over 9,000 of their comrades in Normandy and the
Falaise Gap. After the Falaise campaign, the Division had also lost nearly all
of its armour, much of its equipment and its heavy weapons.
Although given a brief respite, it received virtually no reinforcements or
equipment and was soon thrown back into battle, taking part in the fighting
withdrawal to the Franco-Belgian border. By September 1944, the division
counted less than 2,000 men, without armour or heavy equipment. On 6 September,
Kurt Meyer was captured by Belgian partisans. He had removed his SS uniform and
was wearing that of a regular German army officer. In the confusion of the
withdrawal, the division was unable to undertake a rescue attempt and
SS-Obersturmbannführer Hubert Meyer was placed in command.
In November 1944, the division was pulled out of the line and sent to Neinburg
in Germany, where it was to be was attached to SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp
Deitrich's 6 SS-Panzer-Armee, which was forming up for Operation Wacht Am
Rhein (the Second Battle of the Ardennes, popularly known as the Battle of the
The operation opened on 16 December 1944. Kampfgruppe Peiper from the 1st SS
Division led the assault, breaking through the enemy lines. The HJ, which was
to follow the battle Group and exploit the breakthrough, became bogged down in
traffic jams caused by the 12.Volsgrenagier-Division. When the Division reached
the front, it met heavy resistance from American troops stationed on the
Elsenborn Ridge. Despite intense efforts, the Division could not budge the
American defenders. As a result, the Division was ordered to swing left and
follow the advance line of the remainder of the 1st SS Division. American
defenders prevented the 1st SS Division from reaching its objective, and after
the destruction of Kampfgruppe Peiper, the advance of Dietrich's army
altogether. Near the end of the year, the Division was shifted south to take
part in the efforts to capture Bastogne, and saw heavy fighting around the
city. By 18 January 1945, the Division, along with all the German forces, had
been pushed back to its starting positions.
On 20 January 1945, Dietrich's 6.SS-Panzer-Armee was ordered east to Hungary
where it was to take part in an offensive to recapture the Hungarian oilfields
and open the way to Budapest, where 45,000 men of the IX.SS-Gebirgskorps had
The Division as a part of I.SS-Panzerkorps arrived in Hungary in early February
1945, only a few days before the city fell. The Division was thrown into action
against the Gran Bridgehead, a strong salient formed by the Soviets over the
Danube near the town of Gran. The Division fought well, and by the end of
February the bridgehead had been destroyed.
The division was next to take part in Operation Frühlingserwachen (Spring
Awakening), the operation to retake the Hungarian oilfields. Hitler, desperate
to keep the operation a secret, had ordered that no reconnaissance of the
battlefield be allowed before the attack began. The attack got underway on 6
March 1945 in atrocious conditions. The spring thaw meant that the German
attack was confined to a few narrow roads, and after initial successes, the
offensive was aborted after a Soviet counterattack threatened to encircle the
In mid-March, a heavy Soviet counterattack near Stuhlweissenberg split
Armeegruppe Balck in half and resulted in a general withdrawal towards Vienna.
The Division was involved in many desperate rearguard actions, and on 13 April
fell back from Vienna. Withdrawing through Odenburg and Hirtenburg, the
Division reached Linz, Austria near the American lines. On 8 May 1945, 10,000
survivors of the division surrendered to the Americans near Enns. In a final
act of defiance, the Division refused to drape their vehicles with white flags,
as the Americans had ordered.