History of the 12th

Infantry  Division

Composition

27th Infantry Regiment, 48th Infantry Regiment, 89th Infantry Regiment, 12th Artillery Regiment, 12th Reconnaissance Battalion, 12th Anti-Tank Battalion, 12th Engineer Battalion, 12th Signal Battalion.

Commanders:

August 1939 – March1940, Generalleutnant Luwig von der Leyen.

March 1940 - January 1942, Generalleutnant Walter von Seydlitz-Kurzbach.

January 1942 - June 1944, Generalleutnant Kurt-Jurgen Freiherr von Lutzow.

June 1944, Generalleutnant Rudolf Bamler

June 1944 – April 1945, Generalmajor Gerhard Engel

The 12th Infantry Division was formed in October 1934 in Schwerin in Mecklenburg, part of Wehrkreis II (military district two) which encompassed all of the state of Pomerania, and from which all recruits new recruits would be drawn. It was originally known as Wehrgauleitung Schwerin.

Shortly after the unit was established it was given the cover name Infanterieführer II. The organic regimental units of the Division were formed by the expansion of the 5th (Prussian) Infantry Regiment and the 6th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry regiment of the Reichswehr. With the formal announcement of the creation of the Wehrmacht (which had been covertly in place for over a year) on October 15th 1935, the cover name of Infantrieführer II was dropped and this unit became officially known as the 12th Infantry Division. It was composed of three infantry regiments; the 27th, 48th and 89th, and artillery regiments 12 and 48 with other supporting units. It was one of thirty-five divisions formed before the outbreak of war, and belonged to the first wave of conscription. That is to say, when the division was mobilised for war in 1939, the majority of its soldiers had gone through their two years national service and were recalled as reservists from their civilian occupation. These also included those Great War veterans liable for call up that were registered in Wehrkreis II, usually because this was they were resident.

The Division served with distinction in the Polish Campaign. For the campaign in Poland, the 12th Infantry Division was part of the so-called Armeekorps 'Wodrig' of Generalleutnant von Kuchler's 3rd Armee, Heeresgruppe Nord. The most notable event of the campaign was the death of the former Commander-in-Chief of the Oberkommando des Heeres General Staff, Generaloberst von Fritsch. In 1937 a scandal erupted in the upper-hierarchy of the German Army, in which Generaloberst von Fritsch was falsely accused of homosexual activity. This was part of Hitler's clearing up of opposition in the army to his expansionist foreign policy. Von Fritsch demanded the case be heard before an Army Court of Honour, but Hitler sent him on indefinite leave. When the accusations were later proved to be unfounded by an Army Court of Honour, as nothing more than a fabrication by Heydrich's SD-Amt, Hitler sought to publicly make amends by bestowing upon the humiliated ex-Feldheer an honorary title which might rehabilitate his honour. On August 11th, 1938 at the Gross-Born parade ground near Schwerin, Generaloberst von Fritsch was awarded the honorary rank of 'Chef' of the 12th Artillery Regiment. While this appointment was intended as a 'titular' rank - von Fritsch chose to actively participate in the Polish campaign with 'his' regiment. On the morning of September 22nd 1939, while leading a battle group that had penetrated into the outskirts of Warsaw he was felled by Polish machine-gun fire and died shortly afterwards. By finding death in battle, von Fritsch redeemed his own personal code of honour.

The Division moved through Belgium into France during May 1940. After a distinguished acquittal of its objectives in Poland, the division participated in the 1940 French campaign as part of the Second Armeekorp of the Fourth Armee. During the campaign, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, following the brilliant plan of an obscure Generalmajor von Manstein, deployed the famous 'sikelschnitt' (sickle-cut) that swept around the best French and British forces as they moved in Belgium, cutting them off from the main French force and squeezing them against the Channel Coast. The 12th served in the arm that swept round the Allied force, and were instrumental in preventing a desperate attempt by the French to punch through and rescue their beleaguered allies. The Division marched on after Dunkirk and reached the coast of Biscay in the Vendee before France signed an armistice.

In September 1940 the Division was moved to the Netherlands for occupation duties. It remained there until 25th May 1941 when it was transferred to East Prussia. On June 22nd the Division marched into Lithuania as part of the Second Armeekorp of the sixteenth army, Heeresgruppe Nord. The native population greeted the men as heroes. These deeply Catholic people had been under Soviet rule since 1939 and treated the German forces as liberators. Crossing the Niemen River the division captured Kaunas (Kovno) and reached the Dvina on 2nd July. In early August the division approached the area of Kholm and following a series of heavy engagements there and in the Valdia Hills it reached the source of the Volga River south of the Demyansk in mid-September.

For the next fourteen months the Division remained in what had become known as the 'Festung Demjansk' (Fortress Demjansk). In the winter of 1941-42 the Red Army cut off and encircled the Second Armeekorp. Some 96,000 Germans, among them the men of the 12th Infantry Division were trapped. However, in late August 1942 contact was re-established with the Second Armeekorp, but the situation remained precarious until the pocket was evacuated in February 1943. Following a short rest on the Lovat river, south of the Lake Ilmen and Styraya Russa, the Division was sent to the area of Vitesbsk where it took part in the heavy defensive battles in December 1943 through to mid-February 1944. The Division was then transferred to Mogilev where it was still stationed when the massive Soviet summer offensive 'Bagration' erupted on 22nd June 1944. Virtually all of Army Group Centre was destroyed in the great Minsk-Vitebsk encirclements, including the 12th Infantry Division. Generalleutnant Rudolf Bambler surrendered his Division to the Soviets in July 1944. None of the main combat elements escaped capture. Its few survivors limped back to reorganise in West Prussia.

In mid-September 1944 the reformed 12th Infantry Division was rushed to Aachen to hold back the US forces converging on the city. In mid-October, the newly re-branded 12th Volksgrenadier-Division took part in the freezing Ardennes offensive and then retreated across the Rhine in March 1944. The division finally surrendered to the Americans in the so-called 'Ruhr pocket' at Siegen.

Since September 1939 the Division had lost thousands of its soldiers in Poland, in France, in the Netherlands, in Lithuania and in Russia. It had marched thousands of miles to the east and west of its home in Pomerania. Its soldiers had basked in the French sun and frozen in the Russian winter. Many of its soldiers still froze to death after the war, imprisoned deep in Russia from where few would ever return to see Pomerania again. But for the survivors of the 12th at Siegen, the war was finally over.

 


Sources:

www.feldgrau.com
             
BARTOV, O: The Eastern Front 1941-45, German troops and the barbarisation of warfare (second edition); Palgrave 2001

MITCHAM, S.W: Hitler’s Legions, Leo Cooper 1985

HAGGER, I J: My imagination; Der Soldat Publishing 2003