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 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 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.
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 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.