Destroyed in the Minsk-Vitebsk encirclements in July of 1944 and reformed later as the 12.Grenadier-Division.
This unit was formed in October 1934 in Schwerin. It was originally known as Wehrgauleitung Schwerin**.
Shortly after the unit was established it was given the cover name Infanterieführer II***.
With the formal announcement of the creation of the Wehrmacht (which had covertly been in place for over a year) on October 15th, 1935, the cover name Infanterieführer II was dropped and this unit became officially known as the 12.Infanterie-Division.
For the Campaign in Poland, the 12.Infanterie-Division was part of Armeekorps Wodrig of Generalleutnant von Kuchler’s 3.Armee, Heeresgruppe Nord during the initial thrust out of Prussia towards Warsaw. Interestingly, the division’s integral Artillerie-Regiment had an honorary commander, the former pre-war Commander in Chief of the German Army, Generaloberst Werner von Fritsch. He died of wounds received during this fighting.*
After a distinguished acquittal of its objectives in Poland, the division participated in the 1940 French campaign as part of II.Armee-korps, IV.Armee, where it notably helped stop a desperate French Armyattempt to cut the main “sikelschnitt-panzer corridor” of German troops heading speedily for the Channel coast, hoping to relieve the trapped British and French forces in Belgium.
Still part of II.Armeekorps, thedivision fought with XVI.Armee, Heeresgruppe Nord, in the initial invasion of Russia in June 1941, and was instrumental in the capture of Dvinsk. Still in the North in 1942, the division was the main relieving force of the trapped II.Armeekorps troops in the Demjansk Pocket. The overwhelming 1944 Soviet summer Offensive “Bagration”, found the unfortunate 12.Infanterie-Division entrapped in the great Minsk-Vitebsk encirclements by the Red Army of the collapsed Heeresgruppe Mitte. The Divison’s CO, Generalleutnant Rudolf Bambler surrendered his division to the Soviets in July 1944. None of the main combat elements of the division escaped capture. The Division was then reformed in August as the 12.Grenadier-Division
* In 1937 a scandal erupted in the upper-hierarchy of the German Army, in which Generaloberst von Fritsch was accused of homosexual activities, which led to his resignation from the office of C-in-C of the OKH General Staff. When the matter was later generally proved to be unfounded, and merely a fabrication of Heydrich’s SD-Amt, Hitler sought to publicly make amends by bestowing upon him an honorary title, which might rehabilitate his honor. On August 11, 1938, at a ceremony held on the Gross-Born parade ground near Schwerin, Generaloberst Freiherr von Fritsch was awarded the honorary rank of “Chef” of Artillerie-Regiment 12. While this appointment was intended as only honorary, von Fritsch chose to actively participate in the Polish campaign with the regiment. On the morning of September 22, 1939, while leading a battlegroup, which had penetrated into the outskirts of Warsaw he was struck by Polish machine-gun fire and died shortly afterward.
** In 1934 the German armed forces were still known as the Reichswehr and the restrictions of the treaty of Versailles were technically still in place. These restrictions limited the number of German divisions to 7 but almost from the start in 1921, there were plans to expand that number. Shortly after the NSDAP came to power in 1933 the number of divisions was indeed expanded from 7 to 21. The Reichswehr divisions didn’t transition over during the reforming and expansion period, they were used instead to help provide a basis for the newly forming units. The commanders of the 7 divisions of the Reichswehr also served as the head of a regional Wehrkreiskommando of the same number as the division, thus serving a dual role. During the transition period, the Reichswehr Wehrkreiskommandos were upgraded into Korp formations and the commanders were transferred to serve as their new commanding officers. Through this move, the staff of each of the Reichswehr divisional units was lost making it unwieldy to transfer entire divisions into the newly forming Wehrmacht. From here the first step in the expansion from 7 to 21 divisions was the formation of 3 Wehrgauleitung in each region previously controlled by the Reichswehr divisions, creating 21 Wehrgauleitungen (7×3=21). Each Wehrgauleitung was named according to the city it was housed in. The 21 Wehrgauleitungen were the true foundation for the first divisions of the Wehrmacht. The regimental units of the former 7 divisions were shifted about and used to form the organic units of the new divisions.
*** The German armed forces expanded from 7 divisions to 21 in 1934. In an effort to hide the expansion for as long as possible, all new divisions were given cover names. The cover names given to each of the 21 new divisions corresponded to the title of the commander placed in charge of the unit in most cases. As there was an Infantry and Artillery commander in each of the 7 divisions of the Reichswehr (known as Infanteriefüher I-VII and Artilleriefüher I-VII, depending on the number of the division in question) they took command of 14 of the newly formed divisions (2×7=14). When the various Infantry and Artillery commanders took command, their new division’s existence was hidden by the use of his previous title as the cover name for the unit. The remaining 7 new divisions not commanded by one of the previous Infantry or Artillery commanders were taken over by newly appointed commanders and given cover names such as Kommandant von Ulm, or Kommandant von Regensburg.
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