The intentions to document this information are long standing in that they go back some two decades to the early/mid 1990’s, just a few years before the subject of this site, James Kitchener Heath passed away.

As is the case in so many families in which a generation experienced war and all its traumas, certain aspects of service are known, but all too often the details are sketchy and disjointed. Add into this mix the passage of time and the result is invariably a collection of stories and fragments of memories accompanied by a handful of fragile and faded documents (if you are lucky) that represent the sum of information relating to the most extraordinary period in a soldier’s life. This was certainly the case in our family..... and it’s not much to go on.

In February 1995, my Father and I struggled to put together a potted service history to be read by the cleric presiding over my Grandfather’s funeral. At this point I decided to take steps to fill in some of the gaps as best I could.... sadly now without the benefit of first hand testimony.

A well known turn of phrase, ‘written on the back of a fag packet’ is defined by the Collins on-Line dictionary as something ‘composed or formed quickly and without detailed analysis or research’. As far as first hand source material for this history is concerned, no better a description could be made. The details gleaned from my Grandfather in brief (and often emotional) discussions in the 1990’s are summarised as a list of place names written in an old man’s shaky handwriting on the back of a standard envelope! (this will feature later). On the upside, a standard envelope is approximately twice the size of a cigarette packet, which immediately doubles the amount of information to work with!

By my own admission, this site is a little self-indulgent, being of primary interest to myself, my mother, my children and a handful of relatives still living in Staffordshire. In addition, it may be that the information presented here will be read by others outside of the family who have a passing interest in military or family history.

I would welcome any comments/suggestions or dare I say it relevant information to contact me.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Operation Charnwood - The Germans

At the beginning of July, the German Armed Forces High Command (OKW) had made it clear that the defence of Caen remained a priority. Thus at the commencement of Operation Charnwood, the German forces opposing the British and Canadian formations were formidable.

12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend

Positioned on the left flank and centre.

The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a unique formation composed of soldiers drawn from the Hitler Youth movement commanded by officers of the 1st SS Panzer Division Lebstandarte SS Adolf Hitler with combat experience gained on the Eastern Front. The command structure was supplemented with other officers transferred from army divisions.

Created in early February 1943, the Division was only declared as ready for combat operations in the first week of June 1944 on the eve of the Allied landings.

As members of the Hitler Youth, it was said that some of the Panzergrenadiers (essentially motorised infantry soldiers) were so young that the usual rations of tobacco and alcohol were replaced with sweets. And yet, as members of the Hitler Youth movement, these young men were steeped in Nazi ideology and fought their battles with a ferocity borne out of the indoctrination that they had received.

In action for the first time on 7th June 1944 (D-Day + 1) the Division suffered badly during the Battle of Normandy that saw their strength reduced from 20,000 soldiers at the beginning of June to the 12,000 that emerged out of the inferno that was the 'Falaise Pocket' in the last two weeks of August.

After Normandy, the Division saw further action fighting the Americans in the Ardennes and the Russians in Budapest. The end of their war came on 8th May 1945 when the remaining 10,000 soldiers of the 12th SS Panzer surrendered to US forces in Austria.

The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was most notably commanded by Kurt 'Panzer' Meyer.

The extreme youth of the soldiers of the The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend is evident from this photograph of a captured, wounded Panzergrenadier.

16th Luftwaffe Field Division

This was a formation born out of of political considerations. The brainchild of the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, the principle behind the Luftwaffe formations was to create additional units from the ground and support personnel of the Luftwaffe.

The rationale for the recruitment of Luftwaffe soldiers into new army formations was purely political in that Göring considered that elements of the Luftwaffe were formed of 'political soldiers', men who were completely aligned with the aims and ambitions of the Nazi state. To his view, this contrasted favourably with the conservative, traditionalist military outlook of the Wehrmacht.

From the point of the formation of such divisions in 1942, the intention was that they would be commanded by Luftwaffe officers. However, by 1943, military necessity meant that the Luftwaffe divisions became standard infantry divisions under army officer command. Nevertheless, the Luftwaffe designation was retained.

As airmen, the Luftwaffe divisions were tasked to undertake duties that would release other infantry troops for front line combat. However, in the face of the Allied landings on 6th June 1944 such a role was no longer an option and the 16th Luftwaffen-Feld-Divisionen, to give it its German name, found itself opposing the experienced 3rd Infantry Division north-east of Caen.

In battle, the inexperience of the 16th in combat was a contributing factor in the progress of the 3rd Infantry Division on the left flank of the Charnwood fighting.

16th Luftwaffe Field Division near Colombelles to the east of Caen in July 1944
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-721-0353-27A / Vennemann, Wolfgang / CC-BY-SA 3.0

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