Monday, 25 July 2011

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Panzer IV of the Hitlerjugend Division, Belgium 1943

The 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was formed in mid 1943 from members of the Hitler Youth born in 1926. The leaders of this Division of 17 year old boys were sourced from senior NCOs and Officers of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). Many of the soldiers in the unit were so young that they received sweets instead of the standard ration of tobacco and alcohol.

Regardless, their high morale, experienced leadership and excellent equipment made them a force to be reckoned with. The Division gave a good account of itself in battle, sometimes fighting fanatically against overwhelming odds. The record of the Division is far from spotless, however. During the fighting around Caen after D-Day members of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 25 were responsible for the execution of some 156 Canadian soldiers. SS-Standartenführer Kurt Meyer (then leader of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 25) was convicted of war crimes in December 1945 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Division lost around 8000 men killed, wounded or missing during the campaign in Normandy, and went on to participate in Unternehmen Wacht am Rhine (better know as the Battle of the Bulge) and Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen (Operation Spring Awakening), the operation to recapture the Hungarian oil fields in March 1945. The Division ended its days by surrendering to US forces near the city of Enns in Austria.

The subject of today's image is Panzer IV Ausf. H number 615 of 6./SS-PzRgt. 12 (6th Company, SS-Panzer Regiment 12). The photograph was taken during exercises in Belgium at the end of 1943. As always, click the image to view it full-size.



Several vehicles from 6./SS-PzRgt. 12 feature the names of the crew's sweethearts painted on the tanks, here we have 'Wilma' painted on the commander's Cupola and 'Paula' painted on the driver's visor (along with a heart?!).

The commander and loader are wearing Kriegsmarine U-Boat leather jackets, which were an item particular to the Hitlerjugend and LSSAH Divisions. These uniforms were initially given to the Italian Navy, but were reclaimed by the LSSAH when they went to Italy to disarm part of the Italian Army in 1943. Alongside these leather uniforms were found large stocks of Italian camouflage material, which were soon made into clothing for the two divisions.

Note, the radio operator appears to be wearing a feldgrau M40 side cap rather than the standard black Panzer cap (as worn by the loader). The commander wears an M43 camouflage field cap affixed with a non-regulation metal totenkopf.

The original photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-297-1722-27 / Kurth / CC-BY-SA