In recent years a number of books, articles and other publications have been issued regarding the fighting in Normandy during 1944. These works discuss in great detail the operations, including the equipment, armament, tactics, command practice and tactical operational decisions of both sides.1 Why, then, another book about the German troops in Normandy? Is there anything that we don’t already know about these operations?
Most of the documentation of the German operational and strategic command and control levels has survived and is available to military historians. However, the contemporary unit documentation of the German troops deployed in Normandy is mostly unavailable in military archives today. Such documents were mainly compiled from the official war diaries of the different units with attachments and appendices (reports, accounts, telegrams, map drafts, etc.). The majority of these documents were, either deliberately or accidentally, eradicated in the hell of the Falaise Cauldron in August 1944 or during the chaotic withdrawal. This is why it is so significant that almost the complete unit documentation of the 12.SS-Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend”, the main German unit involved in the fighting around Caen and Falaise, survives in the Military History Archives of the Czech Army in Prague.
I would like to thank both Colonel Mgr. Josef Žikeš, director of the Vojenský Ústřední Archiv in Prague and PhDr. Július Baláž, CSc., director of the Vojenský Historický Archiv, for their help. Without them this book could never have been completed.
The majority of these contemporary documents, of which there are a massive amount, have never been published, thus it is hoped military historians will find it useful to be able to access the almost full-length original documents in English. These documents were written during the summer of 1944 by SS-Panzer Regiment 12 and SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12. The former unit was equipped with Panther and Panzer IV tanks, and was often used as the iron fist of the division.
The war diary entries and the attachments of both SS-Panzer Abteilung are given in chronological order. The numerous military abbreviations used have been simplified in the translation in order to aid understanding. Where it was necessary we have included additions in brackets to help understand the text, due to the omission of many verbs and nouns in the original German documents. At the same time we have striven to keep the contemporary military style of the war diaries, which was often quite laconic. Footnotes have been added for explanation, and to help interpret and contextualise the text. Typing errors in the original German text have been corrected without indication. Appendix numbers appearing in Arabic numerals refer to original war diary appendices that are, where possible, reproduced within the main text; appendices with Roman numerals direct readers to appendices at the end of this book. Due to the repeated occurrence of SS ranks, the prefix SS- before each, e.g. SS-Unterscharführer, has been omitted to avoid constant repetition and to save space; however, this prefix is present throughout the original documents.
Waffen-SS numerical designations generally followed the Army system utilized in the prewar SS-Verfügungstruppe. Roman numerals designated a platoon (Zug), battalion (Bataillon), detachment (Abteilung), and a corps (Korps). Arabic numbers designated a company (Kompanie), battery (Batterie), and Division (Division). Thus, the I./3./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 was the 1st Platoon of the 3rd Company of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26. The 3./III./SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26 was the 3rd Company, 3rd Battalion of SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 26. In most instances only a single number identified the sub-unit in question, such as the 3./SS-Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 12 designating the 3rd Battery of the artillery contingent or the 4./SS-Panzer Regiment 12 denoting the 4th Company of SS-Panzer Regiment 12. German artillery and tank units were designated detachments, along with some smaller divisional elements, while American forces of the period used the term battalions for similar units.
The 12.SS-Panzer Division not only had tanks; it also had Jagdpanzer IVs within SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12. The second half of the book outlines the history of this unit in Normandy, based on their war diaries and other documents from the Abteilung.
The book is thus a unique composition of primary sources based on the war diaries of SS-Panzer Regiment 12 and SS-Panzerjäger Abteilung 12, together with explanations and original research. A section about combat history in Normandy, paralleling the unit history of the 12.SS-Panzer Division,2 has also been included.
Those who are interested will find a number of supplementary tables in the appendices section. The data in these tables are partly derived directly from the contemporary documents, and are partly our summaries of the original data.
I would like to thank Mr. Duncan Rogers for opening the door to publishing this book in English.
I am also thankful for Péter Illésfalvi, my colleague and friend, who helped me select photographs from the collection belonging to the HM Museum and Institute of Military History (HM Hadtörténeti Intézet és Múzeum).
The publishers and myself would like to thank Mr. Mark C. Yerger for contributing so much to this book. He readily helped proofread and added much information relating to the 12.SS-Panzer Division generally, and its officers in particular. He also was very generous with sending us photographs and documents which have enhanced this book greatly. We would also like to thank M. Charles Trang for assisting with some of the photographs.
I hope that the data provided in this book will serve as a helpful addition to existing accounts of the combat fought in Normandy in 1944, especially that of the tank battles which raged on the frontline.
My family has had to put up with me while I was working on this book. Not only did they have to live without me for a while, but as I worked I listened mostly to the German thrash metal band Kreator to help keep my thoughts on appropriate Germanic culture!
My lovely wife was endlessly patient, and kindly proofread the manuscript for me. I am extremely grateful to her.
1 One of the most detailed summaries of the German battle for Normandy is Niklas Zetterling, Normandy 1944: German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness, Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz, 2000.
2 See Hubert Meyer, Kriegsgeschichte der 12. SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend”, Band I, Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1999, 4th edition.