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Date: Wednesday, 7 June 1944
Place: Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
Panzerkampfwagen IV ausf H (turmnummer 626) of 6.Kompanie/SS-Panzer-Regiment 12/12.SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend" passes a garage on its way to the front at Caen. Note Schurzen (armored skirt) that protected the bogies and road wheels from light anti-tank rounds. One unit to field the Panzer IV H was the Hitlerjugend Division, with the formation’s combat debut occurring on 7 June 1944 as German forces began a ferocious defense of Caen in the Normandy area against Canadian and British units. It was one of the closest divisions to the landing beaches. The 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend" was formed in April 1943 from sixteen- to eighteen-year-old Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) volunteers and experienced SS veterans from the Eastern Front. By September 1943 16,000 Hitler Youth had completed a four-week crash training course that emphasized realistic live fire exercises and atypical interaction between the officers and enlisted men that resulted in very high morale. 12th SS was one of the Panzer Divisions held in reserve on June 6, 1944 for several hours by Hitler's Headquarters. When they finally reached Caen, they were pounded by Allied fighter-bombers. Their 34-year-old commander SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Witt was killed on June 14 by naval gunfire. Over the next four weeks, the division managed to halt all Allied attempts to take Caen, despite the Allies' superior numbers and overwhelming air supremacy. While they fought hard, 20 percent were killed and 40 percent were wounded or missing. Bitter reprisals led to war crimes on both sides. The remains of 12th SS Panzer escaped the Falaise Pocket in September 1944; only 600 survived. No tanks or supplies came with them. The Division was reformed with younger volunteers and draftees. It supported the Ardennes Offensive and fought in Hungary. On May 8, 1945, numbering just 455 soldiers and one tank! the 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend" surrendered to the US 7th Army.