The idea of a Waffen-SS division composed of Hitlerjugend (HJ) members was first proposed by Gruppenführer Gottlob Berger in January 1943. Berger approached Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler with the proposition, and Himmler soon became an enthusiastic advocate. The plan for a combat division made up of all Hitlerjugend members born in 1926 was passed on to Adolf Hitler for his approval. Hitler was also enthusiastic about the idea, and on 13 February 1943, the official order for the creation of an Hitlerjugend division was issued.
Berger nominated himself as the divisional commander, but Himmler instead chose 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) veteran, Oberführer Fritz Witt.
A competition was held to design insignia for the new unit. The winning design, picked from thousands of entries, depicted the Hitlerjugend sigrune crossing a key from the 1st SS Panzer Division LSSAH's insignia.
While the Hitlerjugend members, who had grown up under NSDAP propaganda, were committed to the Nazi cause, they had no military experience. To provide a skilled backbone for the division, veterans from the 1st SS Panzer Division LSSAH were assigned to the Hitlerjugend division and provided all the regimental, battalion and most of the company commanders. However the SS could not provide all the officers required and 50 Army officers were assigned. They served in their army uniforms but were completely part of the division. Training for the division was unusual. Witt, realizing that the division had to be made ready for combat as quickly as possible, ignored many rules and regulations and instead focused on realistic combat scenarios and live-fire exercises. A result of this was that the morale of the HJ was exceptionally high, and the relationship between the officers, NCOs and men was an informal one, based on mutual trust and respect.
Panzergrenadiers on a Panzer IV during training 1943, some idea of how young members of the division were, can be obtained in this picture.
In March 1944 the 12th SS was deemed ready for active service and was ordered to move to Caen in Normandy and became part of the 1st SS Panzer Corps. Throughout the spring of 1944 the division continued training exercises in the peaceful area around Caen, familiarizing itself with the terrain. This was to prove invaluable in the months to come. On 27 May, Witt celebrated his 36th birthday and his recent promotion to Brigadeführer. The peaceful 'holiday atmosphere', as one grenadier described it, was soon to be shattered.
Hitler Youth visit the 12th SS Panzer, 21 March 1944 in Belgium.
At the beginning of June 1944 the division was declared ready for combat operations. The Division's tank strength at this time was 81 Panther and 104 Panzer IV tanks. The division was also equipped with Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyers, three prototype Wirbelwind flakpanzer vehicles, along with a number of 20 mm, 37 mm and 88 mm flak guns, Hummel, Wespe and sIG 33 self-propelled guns and regular towed artillery pieces.
Its tank destroyer unit, SS Panzerjäger Battalion 12, however, was not considered ready for action and was understrength in Jagdpanzer IV.