Remembrances: Phil Leveque: Hitler Youth vs ASTP and AF
Any Dogface who fought in Germany during WWII ran into Hitler Youth Soldiers. They were fanatic monsters. Very few were as old as 20 years and most were 17 or 18, although many of them were as young as 12 years. They could be accepted as Jungfolk (young folk) before they were 10 years old.
Even before Hitler Youth Membership became compulsory in December, 1939, six and a half million boys and girls joined. The boys were called Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth). The girls were also Hitler Youth but they belonged to the Bundes Deutsches Madchen (Organization of German Girls).
The Hitler Jugend Army Division was formed in July 1943 with 10,000 young men. About 65% were 17, 17% were 18 and the rest 19. The Division was ultimately called the 12th SS Panzer HJ. SS stood for Schutz Staffel (bodyguard for Hitler) and Panzer (the Panzergrenadier Division (a fancy name for the Infantry). The HJ Division was committed to action around D-Day, June 6, 1944 around Caen, which was General Montgomery's first objective to be taken in the first 24 hours. In large part because of the 12th HJ Division and four other Tanker Divisions, Monty didn't get it for five weeks.
The Germans had been training or in combat for at least 5 years. They had marched into the Rhineland area in 1936, followed by moving into Czechoslovakia and Austria and in 1939 into Poland. In 1940, they took over Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and France. By June, 1944, they were trained to a razor's edge.
On June 6, 1944, the Wehrmacht (Army) was settled in excellent defensive positions in Normandy as well as the entire Atlantic Coast. They considered their West Wall impregnable. They were almost correct. Although the Wehrmacht was somewhat short of men at Normandy because they were stretched out over a couple of thousand miles, by the time the Seine River was crossed they had 27 Infantry Divisions and about 6 Panzer Divisions defending.
The Allied invasion on June 6, 1944 consisted of 3 Airborne Divisions and 6 Infantry Divisions but very few tanks. The Tank Divisions didn't really get there until July 2nd, 9th and 28th. The Allies did put 150,000 men ashore in the first 24hours but it was almost exclusively infantry with few artillery pieces and fewer tanks. The Allies did have plenty of naval gunfire, some of which could fire inland up to 15 miles. Nobody had good Artillery observers so the naval fire wasn't as effective as it could have been.
Apparently all of the German Divisions had some previous Hitler Jugend in them because many were about 20 years old, which is the right age for soldiers. The 12th SS Panzer Div. H.J. was almost exclusively Hitler Jugend. The only exceptions were the senior officers. Their general was about 35. As mentioned before the Hitler Jugend Division was in the Caen area in the British-Canadian section. The British ultimately had 6 Divisions and Brigades; the Canadians had 10. The Americans had 8 but after the first few weeks American Divisions started flooding in, until about 21 were finally in combat. This later increased to 42.
The Caen attack gradually built up so that by July 31, the British and Canadians had 16 Divisions. Five were armored. Field Marshal Rommel had concentrated 7 Armored Divisions around Caen facing the British. The tank battles around Caen were extremely destructive to Allied tanks because none of the Allied tanks could prevail against the three main German tanks: the Mark IV, the Mark V Panther and the Mark VI Tiger, all of which had better armor and guns. The only way the Allied tanks could stop a German tank was a shot in the side. By that time usually 43 out of 5 Allied tanks would have been hit and destroyed.
The Hitler Jugend was one of the key German Armored Divisions. One must that these were only boys. Most of them were under twenty. They had been indoctrinated for about 10 years in the Nazi ideals if one can call them that. They were fanatic in their devotion to Hitler and the philosophy that they had to prove themselves as good or even better than the run-of-the-mill regular Wehrmacht soldier or tanker. They proved it.
The Hitler Jugend Division started out in June with about 20,000 boys. They lost about 9,000, killed or captured in Normandy. This was the highest casualty rate of any of the German Armored Divisions. The others had high but still fewer casualties. In Normandy, the German Panzer Army lost virtually all of their tanks, anti-tank guns, self-propelled artillery and almost all of their motorized gear. In the area south of Caen, after the Normandy battles, 3043 vehicles - tanks, artillery armored cars, and trucks were destroyed or captured.
In the period from August 1st to the 23rd, the British, Canadians, and Polish had 12,659 casualties. The Americans had more. The Hitler Jugend left France for Germany on September 10 and was reconstituted for the Battle of the Bulge. This is where they opposed Americans. The American casualties in Normandy were frightful. The "high brass" had calculated a battle loss of 70% which was later revised to 83%. In fact, it was well over 100%. Some of the Rifle Companies had 400% replacements. This is why Division replacements were flooded into France. In fifteen days attacking St. Lo, France in August, the 30th Division had 3,934 casualties; nearly all were riflemen. There were only 3,240 riflemen in a Division. These losses brought about a crisis.
In the spring of 1944, the Army felt it was 300,00 men short of requirements. Too many were in Service units and many more were sent to the Pacific. The ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) had 150,000 of the brightest and best soldiers. The Air Force Cadets had an excess of 71,000 cadets. The Army kidnapped 120,000ASTPers and the 71,000 cadets. They had three choices: Rifleman, Mortarman or Machine Gunner. Those not going as Riflemen were the "lucky" ones.
About 4,000 ASTPers and Air Cadets were sent to each Division on the way to France. Another one million or so others went through the "Repple Depple" cattle yards. Repple Depple stood for Replacement Depots, and was the most reviled system of the Army. The replacements were treated like cattle, with a number but not a name. "Send us 20 replacements" or 50, or 100. They were usually sent directly "into the line". Many didn't last one day. After three days, if they were still alive, they were veterans.
Just before the German attack, which was called the Battle of the Bulge, several of the American Divisions which had high casualties and many replacements, many ASTP and AF men, were in a rest, recuperation and replacement mode. Starting from the north were: 102nd Cavalry Group, 9th Inf. Div. (1 regt.),2nd Div. (1 regt.), 99th Inf. Div., 2nd Div. (2 regt.), 14th Cavalry Group. Later, the 2st Infantry Division arrived on the right flank of the 2nd Inf. Division. After the attack, the above units had fallen back for a defense of the Northern flank of the German thrust. The 24 Cavalry Group stayed in the front, but was penetrated and overrun by the lst SS Panzer Div., which blasted 15 miles in Blitzkrieg fashion to intimidate the Americans. They didn't intimidate!
South of this breakthrough were two regiments of the 106th Inf. Div. They had just arrived at the front and were in a WRONG defensive position. This was a ASTP-AF Cadet salted division. They were surrounded by German tanks and artillery and were told by the Germans to surrender or be blown to bits. About 8,000 surrendered and only about 500 escaped to American lines. South of the 106th was the 28th Inf.Div. It had been badly chewed up the month before. It had 5,000 replacements, many of whom were ASTP and AF men. Though considered "Green" by everybody but themselves, they slowed or stopped the German attack of 3 Tank Divisions, 2 Infantry Divisions and a Parachute Division. Two regiments, 109th and 112th on the flanks, held but the center Regiment, the 110th, was outnumbered 5 to 1. Mostly replacements held out for two days. They had 90% losses and were essentially wiped. The 110th Regiment and the rest of the 28th Division delayed the German attack long enough so the 101st Airborne could reach Bastogne and did in defensive positions. The 28th was never given credit for this. It may be because too many were killed.
The 4th Infantry Div. was south of the 28th. They also had been decimated in November as had the 28th. Most rifle companies were at half-strength. They slowed two German Divisions and were relieved somewhat by Patton's 10th Armored Division, late in the German attack. On the north flank of the German attack, the 99th Division, which had many ASTPers and Cadets, had been hit by the 12th SS Panzer HF - the Hitler Jugend Division who had the monstrous, almost invulnerable, Tiger and Panther tanks. They broke through, but the 99th Div. men and the 2nd Div. men close by, also with many replacements, crept on the tanks and dropped grenades, bazookas and Molotov cocktails on them. The American tanks ambushed any that got through. By Morning, every German tank that broke through had been destroyed.
The German offensive had started December 16th. The Americans were on the defensive until January 2nd. They lost 4,138 killed, 20231 wounded and 16,946 missing (mostly captured). From January 3 until January 28, they were on the offensive, backing the Germans to their start line. The Americans had 6,138 killed, 27,262 wounded, and 6,272 missing. There were also tens of thousands of "Trench foot". January was the worst month for the Americans in WWII. The German casualties were estimated to be up to 104,000 and they lost most of their tanks and artillery. Russell Weigley, considered one of the more authoritative chroniclers of WWII and author of "Eisenhower's Lieutenants, stated , "The American Soldier won the Battle of the Bulge". The ASTPers and Air Force Cadets can take much of the credit. They and the 18 and 19 year old high school graduates of 1943 and 1944. The Hitler Jugend Division suffered as many casualties or more in the Battle of the Bulge as it had in Normandy. It was pulled out about January 10th to the Cologne area, refitted and sent to Hungary around February 7th. They had an even worse time on the Russian front than they did in the Ardennes, and were constantly retreating. They retreated into Austria and surrendered to the Americans on May 8, 1945. According to some authors, only about 500 of the original 20,000 were still alive. Alfons Beck, a ranking officer in the Hitler Jugend but not in its fighting divisions, wrote that in his home town of 8,000 in the gymnasium (high school) class of 1939, half of the boys had been killed. Not one of them had reached the age of 18 years. Hitler truly sacrificed not only the youth of Germany but all branches of the Wehrmacht. The Wehrmacht totaled 10,000,000 men. At least 3,300,000 were killed or missing. Civilian dead were 2,300,000. Allied air raids killed 593,000. The Germans wanted war and were exultant with the early fruits of the Blitzkrieg. They got what they wanted. Two countries had more killed and wounded than Germany. The Russian Army had 13,600,000 dead and 5,000,000 wounded. The civilians had 7,720,000 killed. China had 1,324,516 military dead and 1,762,006 wounded. Civilian dead was estimated to be from 700,000 to 10,000,000. Communications were so bad nobody could find out. Most of them starved because of Japanese action.
As a frontline Infantryman with my own personal knowledge of the ASTPers and Air Force Cadets, our war with Hitler Jugend was at least a draw. They had far better weapons of all kinds than we did. They had five or more years of training. They were brainwashed into the belief that we were store clerks or criminals and pushovers. We were driven by the belief that we had to defeat an obscene enemy to get to go home. The American Infantryman did everything that was asked of him and more. General Ridgeway of the Paratroopers said with conviction.....
"The best military weapon is the American Infantryman." THAT WAS US!