Interview with German Cross in Gold winner SS-Obersturmbannführer Hubert Meyer, commander of the extraordinary 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend', published in the magazine Válka Revue [War Review], Summer, 2014. Special thanks to Wolf.

*Note: The interview is derived from letters from the interviewer to Meyer circa 2001-2010.

[Above: The young lion Hubert Meyer.]

I would like to start by asking what was your youth like and where did you come from?

I was born on December 5, 1913 in Berlin. I had a normal, happy childhood. I graduated from high school in 1932 and then studied chemistry for two years.

When did you join the Waffen-SS and what did you expect from it?

I first joined the SS-Verfügungstruppe ("disposition troops" were the combat units of the NSDAP and represented the crystallizing core of the future Waffen-SS, author's note), it was in the summer of 1933. Well, I was 20 years old at the time, full of ideals and anticipation of the adventure that service in the SS promised. I wanted to belong to an elite unit, that's how the SS presented itself to the public then.

What units did you serve in during your military career?

I started in the SS-VT with the 'Deutschland' Regiment, and after attending the Officer's School in Bad Tölz in 1936-37 and a course for platoon leaders, I joined the 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler'. I also served in the Honor Guard at the Reich Chancellery and at the Obersalzberg, from where I have a souvenir SS officer's sword made of damascus steel with the signature from my time there in 1938, where I spent six weeks of service. After that I took part with the Leibstandarte in the campaigns in Poland, France, the Balkans and the attack on the USSR. In the middle of 1943 I attended the war course for General Staff Officers at the War College and graduated with the qualification of 1st Armored Division General Staff Officer - "1a". I was soon transferred as Chief of Staff to the newly formed 12th SS Panzer Division 'Hitlerjugend' (hereafter 12th SS), where I held this position until the end of the war.

You were awarded one of Germany's highest decorations for bravery, the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold, can you tell us about that?

The regimental commander, SS-Standartenführer Fritz Witt, proposed my decoration in April 1943, and it was awarded to me on May 16. This was for some stiff fighting in March 1943 in the Ukraine, when my unit and I prevented a breakthrough in the vicinity of Nikolskoye and in the subsequent counter-attack on Yelenovka where we managed to obtain enemy maps, diaries and orders of a Russian tank brigade and dispersed this unit. Next, it was during the fighting on March 8-9, 1943 in the vicinity of Kharkov, where we took Minkovka and other villages in the vicinity of the Mzha River by surprise attack in the fog.

Were you wounded during the war?

Twice. The first time was in August 1941 at Umane, in a fight with snipers and subsequent man-to-man fighting, using field blades in a sunflower field. The second time I was hit by shrapnel was in March 1943, when I was in command of a unit in the Battle of Kharkov during our assault riding an assault gun.

[Above: An SS honor guard stands in the night.]

Could you tell us about the formation of the 12th SS?

The division was formed in the summer of 1943, but the idea of forming it came after the lost battle of Stalingrad. It was expected to become, together with the Leibstandarte, part of the newly formed I SS Panzer Corps and to be an elite among the Panzer divisions with its strong tank armament and good morale. Most of the men were volunteers from the Hitler Youth. Young men of the class of 1926, the NCOs and officers were experienced soldiers from the Leibstandarte and other SS divisions. A considerable number of officers and experts came from the Wehrmacht. The tabular strength of the division before the invasion was 20,540 soldiers.

How was the training of your division? Were any new methods and tactical knowledge used, or was it classical training according to Wehrmacht standards? It is said that live ammunition was used and that there were casualties...

The training was standard for SS mechanized units with emphasis on the synergy of all types of weapons, especially infantry and tanks. We didn't put much emphasis on barracks drills, roll calls, etc. It was a priority for us to prepare these young guys for real combat. Therefore, based on our experience in Russia, we conducted training in this direction so that they would have a clear idea of what to expect, how to shoot properly and in what situations. Yes, live ammunition was used during maneuvers and company and battalion synergy training to make combat real. There were casualties, I do not deny that, but they were negligible and more likely due to carelessness. The greater number of casualties were caused by car accidents.

It is often mentioned in the literature that the Waffen-SS had a kind of priority in their armament over Wehrmacht units. How do you view this from your position as Chief of Staff of a Panzer division?

Absolute nonsense. Especially in our division, we were undermanned not only by NCOs and officers, because Wehrmacht units had priority over conscripts. But above all, there was a shortage of equipment! We lacked trucks, some of them were looted Italian trucks, there was a shortage of tanks, and we only got assault guns during the fighting in Normandy. Were we getting different weapons than the other divisions? Not at all, we were equipped with the usual type of weapons as Wehrmacht units.

Were there any differences and peculiarities in the uniforms and equipment of the 12th SS compared to the regulations and classical practices of the Waffen-SS?

No, the uniforms and equipment of the division were the same as those of the other units, that is, except for the cuff titles on the sleeves and the use of Italian camouflage material for camouflage uniforms and accessories.

The unit was in Normandy at the time of the Allied invasion. How was the first day?

On the evening of June 5, we were at the division commander's in Tilliers [Tillières-sur-Avre]. We sat by the fireplace, then went to bed, except for the divisional commander. He woke me up about one o'clock and informed me about the parachute dummies being dropped, adding that at the same time there were actual parachute drops. We immediately raised the alarm. In two hours the division was ready and could go, but the orders were not coming. At about four o'clock we sent a reconnaissance unit towards the coast, and the division had already determined the lines of advance and assembly points. But then at about 10 a.m. a confused order came from General Speidel on Rommel's staff, diverting the troops from their original routes. After clarifying the situation, the units later returned to their original course, but even so there was a punishing delay. As early as June 6 the division could have been deployed off the coast, thus the first units did not arrive on the battlefield until June 7. The manner of command and the transmission of orders coming from the army headquarters on the invasion front gave me the impression that there was no will to succeed against the Allies. Perhaps this was connected with the subsequent coup and the effort to remove Adolf Hitler.

During the fighting in Normandy, the Tiger heavy tank unit worked closely with the 12th SS, with one company commanded by the famous tank driver Michael Wittmann. His assault at Villers-Bocage was unforgettable, destroying almost the entire British replacement brigade. I also remember his last action, when he led a perhaps somewhat pointless attack, which stopped an Allied tank vanguard. Unfortunately his tank took a direct hit in the flank from a hidden enemy tank. Following the discovery of the tank and the rest of the crew on the battlefield, I attended the burial of his remains at the German military cemetery at La Cambe in Normandy in 1983.

[Above: The average age of the 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' was 18. Here are two handsome Hitler Youth lads. Click to enlarge.]

The first SS divisional commander, Brigadeführer Fritz Witt, was killed in Normandy; how did the whole event come about?

It was on June 14 at the headquarters in Venoíx near Caen. After the war, I learned that the Allies had discovered our position with information from ULTRA. They located our headquarters and made a sudden artillery attack from the battleships. The first volley went off, everyone ran for cover and the trenches in the garden. The second volley went into the treetops. The division commander was the last to run out, still pulling stragglers out for cover. A large shrapnel hit him in the head. Ironically, the headquarters building was not hit. I was in the front line on a patrol of our positions, and on my return I immediately called Panzermeyer to say that he was taking over the division command.

How do you remember the commander Kurt Meyer, known as 'Panzermeyer'?

First of all, he was an extremely brave man, I first met him in Russia; my company was surrounded in a village and we asked for reinforcements. Then I saw him running through a trench at the head of his troops with a machine gun ready to fire. They saved us in the nick of time. He advanced fearlessly, always in the first line. Secondly, he was a great friend. There were over 4,000 people at his funeral, where I gave the eulogy.

It's often said that when your division retreated from Normandy, it was absolutely destroyed...

No. Of course, about 400 soldiers of our division got out of the Falaise cauldron, but that's a figure from the final phase of the fighting. Otherwise, about 12,500 members of the 12th SS retreated from Normandy, so there was something to build on, the division could be re-equipped and prepared for further fighting. I do not deny it suffered heavy casualties in Normandy, but not everyone was captured or killed. Many of the wounded returned to duty.

How did the Allies feel about the method of fighting and the tactics you gave the unit in training and used in the USSR?

Unfortunately, the tactics from Russia didn't work. The British were well-trained for defense, which surprised us. They weren't so active in attack, rather cautious, but the Canadians, for example, didn't have very good training. Our attacks at full speed using the element of surprise had no chance of success against solidly built defensive positions. In addition, the Allied artillery and air superiority was overwhelming, with deadly artillery fire stopping all our attempts at major attacks.

At one time, you also led the entire 12th SS...

I took over the command of the division from Panzermeyer, who was captured by Belgian partisans on September 6, 1944 in the vicinity of Dunial in quite dramatic events.

[Above: Hubert Meyer about to shake hands with Field Marshal von Rundstedt.]

The division was also active in the Ardennes Offensive at the turn of 1944/45. How do you feel about this engagement?

Despite the losses suffered, a great fighting spirit was maintained. Unfortunately, we didn't achieve major breakthroughs and objectives here. Just out of interest, the chronicler of the US 2nd Infantry Division states that for the first time in the long history of this unit, the enemy (12th SS) forced them to retreat from their positions and even had to surrender(!) part of it around Krinkelt and Rocherat. That's quite an accolade.

The Hitlerjugend Division also fought in Hungary. Historians often write that after the unsuccessful attack at Balaton in March 1945, Adolf Hitler accused the SS armed units of a lack of fighting spirit and courage and ordered the removal from their uniforms of the honor cuff titles with the names of units, with his name in the case of the 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler'. And Sepp Dietrich is said to have sent all his decorations in a chamber pot with the limb of a dead comrade as a reply.

First of all - the troops could not take off the cuff titles because they did not wear them. For reasons of secrecy, they were already removed before the move to Hungary. Secondly, the order was given, but it stemmed from a misunderstanding and the impressions of General [Otto] Wöhler. When Sepp Dietrich then gave Adolf Hitler an explanation, the order was cancelled and did not reach the men at all. So you can see that what the so-called historians write in the literature is a bunch of fabrications that is repeated and copied over and over again. Our division advanced 27 km in this operation, despite the weather and the enemy, which is not exactly indicative of poor fighting morale or even failure.

I would be interested in your personal opinion of Sepp Dietrich. What kind of man and commander was he?

Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich was an extraordinary and outstanding commanding personality, and his soldiers held him in high regard. He did not have the theoretical training of a German officer, although his official position would have fully required it. He was, however, endowed by nature with the ability to solve and judge military questions and to always find the right solution.

Did the 12th SS division see fighting in the territory of Bohemia and Moravia [Czechoslovakia] or Slovakia?

The division never operated in Bohemia or Slovakia. I think that some of our units trained in the territory of the Protectorate, namely in the Benesov region. In the territory of Slovakia the division participated in the successful destruction of the Soviet bridgehead on the Hron (Operation Südwind before the main attack of Operation Frühlingserwachen at Balaton, spring 1945), but this territory belonged to Hungary at that time.

Where did the end of the war find your unit? The literature states that only about 400 soldiers were left from the division, is that true?

I negotiated the terms of our surrender at the headquarters of the American 65th Infantry Division in Steyr. From the morning of May 8, the division commander, SS-Brigadeführer Hugo Kraas, and his staff and I stood in a ravine in front of the town of Enns on the river of the same name, with the rest of the division deflated in front of us. They were crossing the bridge over the river into American captivity, no white flags, but it looked like a parade - 328 officers, 1,698 enlisted men and 7,844 enlisted men, 9,870 in all.

[Above: In one of the coolest photos of the war is Waffen-SS Corporal Otto Funk of the 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend'. Click to enlarge.]

What were your subsequent fates after the war? Were you active in any of the veterans associations?

I was released from American captivity on April 8, 1948. I worked as a bricklayer, then as a chemist, and then as a salesman until the late 1970s. Of course, I was involved in veterans organizations, and for many years I was one of the three elected officers and spokesmen of the HIAG (an organization of former members of the SS). I devoted a lot of time and energy to it, hopefully not in vain. Although the perception of us veterans has not been and is not the best by the media and politicians. The image of us is a bit distorted and quite often false statements appear in the media, which of course have a negative effect on the view of veterans by ordinary people, unfortunately.

You are the author of a divisional chronicle that traces the formation and combat deployment of the 12th SS, how long did you work on it?

The book was first published in Germany in 1983 and has had several further editions in French and English. I spent more than 14 years of painstaking research in archives, personal correspondence with former comrades-in-arms, countless meetings with military veterans and experts, battlefield research, etc. I have tried to write a book that would show, without exaggeration, the picture of our unit and the soldiers who fought and died in it. War is terrible.

Have you ever been approached by filmmakers or historians to appear in historical documentaries about World War II?

I worked on several documentaries for television that covered the fighting in Normandy. On that occasion I met veterans of the other side and I can say that my personal relations with them were very warm. I also worked with various military academies on courses for officers, which involved lectures on the battlefield in Normandy.

Did you ever meet Adolf Hitler in person? If so, how did he affect you?

I met Adolf Hitler on several occasions during my service in the Leibstandarte before the war, when, as duty commander in the Reich Chancellery and on the Obersalzberg, I personally reported to the Führer on several occasions. The fascinating charm and inner radiance of the leader cannot be described. He literally captivated everyone and made you his prisoner...

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