12th Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)

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For other uses, see 12th Division.
12th Infantry Division
12th Volksgrenadier Division
12th Infanterie Division Logo.svg
Active 1 October 1934 - July 1944
September 1944 - 18 April 1945
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Garrison/HQ Schwerin

The 12th Infantry Division (German: "12. Infanteriedivision") - later known as the 12th Volksgrenadier Division - was a German military unit that fought during World War II. The division was formed in 1934. It participated in the invasion of Poland at the start of the Second World War and took part in the 1940 assault on France and the Low Countries. In the Soviet Union, the division joined Operation Barbarossa. Subsequently the division took part in Operation Bagration where the entire division was captured by the Soviets. The division was re-activated in September 1944, where it was sent to the newly created Western Front.

History and organisation[edit]

Formation[edit]

The division was formed in 1934 from Pomerania's Mecklenburger population, with its homestation being in Schwerin. In order to hide Germany's remilitarisation - a breaking of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles - the unit was codenamed Infanterieführer II to disguise its size. It did not assume its bona-fide designation until the creation of the Wehrmacht was announced in October 1935, where it was redesignated as the 12th Infantry Division. Alongside the name change, Lieutenant General Wilhelm Ulex was placed in charge of the division, before being replaced by Major General Albrecht Schubert the following October. Schubert was promoted to Lieutenant General in March 1938. In November, the command over the 89th Infantry Regiment's 1st Battalion was given to Helmuth Beukemann. In July 1939, the division was moved to Koenigsburg, East Prussia as Germany prepared for the upcoming invasion of Poland, ordered into the 1st Army's I Army Corps.[1][2]

Actions 1939-41[edit]

The 12th Infantry took part in the invasion of Poland to a distinguished capacity at the start of the Second World War. Entering from Tannenberg, the division crossed both the Narew and Bug rivers and into eastern Poland. Because of his skill in command, Helmuth Beukemann was made the commander of a regiment of the 164th Infantry Division in January 1940.[2]

During the 1940 assault on France and the Low Countries, the division helped beat back an Anglo-French assault on an associated Panzer column in the hopes of relieving troops besieged in Belgium during their full-on retreat. Following the campaign, the division remained stationed in the region until May 1941 in an occupational capacity, when it was ordered to return to East Prussia.[1]

Actions in the Soviet Union[edit]

Offensive of the Red Army south of Lake Ilmen 7 January–21 February 1942.

In June 1941 the division joined Operation Barbarossa under Army Group North as an element of the 16th Army. It took part in Army Group North's capture of the Latvian city of Daugavpils ("Dvinsk", in Russian), sweeping north-eastward to Leningrad where it was finally stopped in its tracks during the siege effort. During the early months of 1942, the II Army Corps was subject to a Soviet counteroffensive to relieve Leningrad, resulting in five army divisions (the 12th, included) and the SS-Totenkopf division being encircled along with several other elements of the 16th Army and 3rd SS Division Totenkopf in the Demyansk Pocket. With support from Hermann Göring, planes containing supplies were flown in to aid the divisions while they were in the pocket for some 81 days between 8 February and 20 March. Göring would later gloat about his success in freeing the pocket during the Battle of Stalingrad later that year, when a similar airlift concept was applied. While liberated, the 12th Infantry had left the pocket in a much-weakened state, and was in dire need of reconstitution.[1][3]

In 1943, with the German Army on the retreat, the division fought in the Belarussian city of Vitebsk, where Captain Siegfried Moldenhauer was awarded a Close Combat Clasp for his services as acting-commander of the 48th Grenadier Regiment's (the 4th and 89th Infantry Regiments were redesignated "Grenadier" regiments in the course of the year, while the 27th became a "Fusilier Regiment") 1st Battalion. In January 1944, Moldenhauer became the commander of the regiment's 2nd Battalion, and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross by Major General von Lützow. Soon after, fighting near Mogilew led to the death of 1st Battalion's commander, Major Kurt Klinger - another Knights Cross recipient. Moldenhauer subsequently assumed command of that battalion as well.[3]

In June, it found itself facing the Soviet offensive in the Belorussian SSR, Operation Bagration. After an effective defence of the road into Mogilev, the 1st Battalion's commander, Major Kurt Klinger - another Knight's Cross recipient - was killed by enemy fire. Moldenhauer subsequently assumed command of that battalion as well.[3] With the Soviet 49th Army crossing the Dnieper, the division was ordered to withdraw into the town, which it was to hold at all costs, and subsequently suffered catastrophic casualties in its defence, leading to a successful Soviet occupation on 28 June. The men under Moldenhauer's command managed to escape the encirclement through a small corridor to the east. The men under the command of Wilhelm Osterhold held the 2nd Battalion's rear to aide in its escape.[3]

The long, drawn out campaign took its toll on the 12 Infantry, with its genadier regiments consisting of two battalions, each. This deterioration of effectiveness led to its capitulation during the Soviets' Summer Offencive in July 1944, soon after Army Group Centre's collapse in Operation Bagration. None of the division's men escaped capture; its commanding officer Lieutenant General Rudolf Bamler, who had only been in command for a few weeks, was also captured, but later chose to work for the Soviets.[1][4]

Re-activation[edit]

The division was re-activated in September 1944, where it was sent to the newly created Western Front. Again placed under the command of Colonel Gerhard Engel, the division - at some point being redesignated the "12th Volksgrenadier Division" (German: 12. Volksgrenadier-division) - was at a strength of some 12,800 men.[1] With Allied forces approaching the Siegfried Line, the division was made a line division against the Siegfried Line near Aachen. On September 15, elements of the division arrived at the command post of LXXXI Corps where; in the evening they were given orders by the 7th Army to continue the defence of Aachen and to launch a counterattack on the building Allied forces crossing the Ruhr, by first staging near Eschweiler. The following day, elements of the 9th Panzer Division were added to the 12th Volksgrenadier, which was now well-equipped - at least in comparison to other, starving divisions. It then proceeded to take command of the immediate area around Düren. A meeting between chiefs of staff of the 12th Volksgrenadier and the 9th Panzer Divisions took place on the evening to decide on how to plan their joint-attack on the river Mausbach set for the following day.[5]

The division later saw action in the Western Front in the Ardennes as part of the 6th Panzer Army's I SS-Panzer Corps, where it took part in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. On January 1, Lieutenant General Engel was seriously wounded by Allied forces, and Colonel Rudolf Langhaeuser assumed termporary command until Engel's return in February. When the offensive failed, the 6th Panzer Army left for Hungary, leaving the division behind to fight off the approaching Americans. The division was encircled near Wuppertal with Army Group B within the Ruhr Pocket. On April 12, Major General Koenig assumed command of the division, having also assumed command of the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division. As the Pocket collapsed, Koenig was captured at Wuppertal on April 18.[1]

Notable soldiers[edit]

Commanders
  • Lieutenant General Wilhelm Ulex (1 October 1935 - 11 October 1936)
  • Lieutenant General Albrecht Schubert (12 October 1936)
  • Major General Ludwig von der Leyen (1 September 1939)
  • Lieutenant General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach (10 March 1940)
  • Colonel Karl Hernekamp (1 January 1942)
  • Lieutenant General Kurt-Jürgen Freiherr von Lützow (1 March 1942)
  • Colonel Gerhard Müller (1 June 1942)
  • Colonel Wilhelm Lorenz (11 July 1942)
  • Lieutenant General Kurt-Jürgen Freiherr von Lützow (20 July 1942)
  • Lieutenant General Curt Jahn (25 May 1944)
  • Lieutenant General Rudolf Bamler (4 June 1944)
  • Major General Gerhard Engel (28 June 1944 - January 1, 1945)
  • Colonel Rudolf Langhaeuser (January - February 1945)
  • Lieutenant General Gerhard Engel (February - April 1945)
  • Major General Koenig (12–18 April 1945)
Other notable soldiers

Unit components[edit]

  • 12th Artillery Regiment
  • 12th Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 12th Anti-Tank Battalion
  • 12th Engineer Battalion
  • 12th Signal Battalion
  • 12th Field Replacement Battalion
  • 12th Divisional Supply Troops
  • 27h Fusilier Regiment
  • 48th Infantry Regiment
  • 89th Infantry Regiment[1]

Sources[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Mitcham, Samuel W. (2007). German Order of Battle: 1st-290th Infantry divisions in World War II. Stackpole Books. pp. 50–53. 
  2. ^ a b Kurowski, Franz (Aug 2010). Panzergrenadier Aces: German Mechanized Infantrymen in World War II. Stackpole Books. pp. 19–20. 
  3. ^ a b c d Berger, Florian (June 2011). The Face of Courage: The 98 Men Who Received the Knight's Cross and the Close-Combat Clasp in Gold. Stackpole Books. pp. 364–365. 
  4. ^ Mitcham, Samuel W. (2007). The German Defeat in the East, 1944-45. Stackpole Books. p. 39. 
  5. ^ Haasler, Timm (2011). Hold the Westwall: The History of Panzer Brigade 105, September 1944. Stackpole Books. pp. 77, 275, 301–302. 

See also[edit]