Book Review Peiper's War - The Wartime Years of SS Leader Jochen Peiper 1941-44 by Danny S. Parker

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Jonathan Ball, Apr 28, 2020.

  1. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Our reputation precedes us as a wave of terror and is one of our best weapons. Even old Genghis Khan would gladly have hired us as helpers.

    So wrote Jochen Peiper on 24 March 1943. Peiper’s War though is much more than a study of just one man and in it Danny Parker has followed in the bloodstained tracks of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler across the Soviet Union, France, Italy and Belgium, from Kharkov to Normandy and from frozen foxholes to the finest of châteaux.

    Make no mistake though, this no hagiography to the SS. Prefixes abound. ’Pigheaded’ (Theodore Eicke), ‘Hyper-arrogant’ (Max Wünsche) being just two of many examples.

    The fighting in the Soviet Union across the seemingly never ending Steppe was bitter, uncompromising and brutal. Peiper’s Division, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler were right in the midst of it. The Russians, no matter how many had been killed always came on in the words of one SS soldier “like water out of a pipe”. In Parker’s words ‘it was in the Russian war that everything always seemed to be burning with the advance ever eastwards accompanied by the oily smell of conquest’. The winter of 1941 saw Peiper on the shores of the Black Sea near Rostov. Temperatures dropped to -45° and life consisted of staying huddled in frozen foxholes. They were more fortunate than others in that early in 1942 the LSSAH were sent westwards to France to re-organise and receive the armour which would transform the Division.

    Peiper was promoted to command III Battalion of SS Regiment 2 on the recommendation of the Division’s Commander, Theodor Wisch. The Battalion was issued with Half-tracks and the rumour was they’d be sent to North Africa. Instead, in light of a Soviet Offensive it was to Kharkov they went in November 1942 and a return to the frozen Steppe. Peiper and his men fitted Blowtorches to the Half-tracks and with these crude Flamethrowers revelled in the nickname of the ‘Blowtorch Battalion’. The fighting they took part in was brutal to the extreme. After one engagement Peiper reported four T-34’s destroyed and six hundred enemy dead. Only five prisoners were taken. The inference from Parker is clear in Peiper’s methods of fighting the war in writing ‘If one saw a smudge of smoke or blossom of flame on the snow-packed Russian horizon, there was but one conclusion: there is Peiper’. The oral order, always oral never written, was clear. Villages were to be burned. The fires usually started when the shooting had stopped.

    Then came Zitadelle and the titanic clash of arms it entailed. Parker gives a full and captivating account of the battle as one of swirling clashes in the dust in which each side believed it was bleeding the other white. For every German tank knocked out the Soviets lost six and yet it was seen as a failure. The difference being Stalin could afford the losses and Hitler couldn’t. It was the very definition of war by attrition and the Germans were losing and those at the front knew it.

    Again, the LSSAH were taken out of the line and this time the destination was Italy. The Division pitched up south of Milan in the summer of 1943 and the difference from the east couldn’t have been starker. For the SS it was seen as an ‘armed holiday’. However, the behaviour of these ‘holiday makers’ was pretty much business as usual. In an incident with Partisans, two SS men were kidnapped. The response was with the usual depressing brutality. The town of Boves was burned and 24 of those inhabitants who couldn’t flee were shot with casual indifference.

    ‘Holiday’ over the Division went eastwards for a final time with Peiper, the former adjutant of Himmler being promoted over the heads of others more experienced to command the Panzer Regiment. Peiper’s tactics from Half-tracks to Panzers went with him; attack at full speed bringing full weapons to bear. The Russians were thrown back but losses were high. By 1944 the Germans were being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of the Red Army. The ‘ace’ in Peiper’s pack, Michael Wittmann, in Parkers words ‘destroyed countless enemy tanks-countless being the key word’.

    Peiper was at his physical limits and he was sent back to Bavaria to convalesce. He also went to Berlin to receive the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross from Hitler and to a meeting with Himmler. It’s is to Parker’s credit that he points out repeatedly the ludicrousness of Peiper’s defenders assertions that he never knew anything of the camps and the final solution. Parker gives many examples of how the elephant in the room couldn’t have been ignored.

    From convalescence Peiper returned to the Division in Belgium. By the time of the Invasion of Normandy they were still there, taken in completely by Fortitude. When the move order came it was too late. The Division harried all the way towards Normandy and an already secure Allied lodgement by the marauding British and American Fighter Bombers overhead.

    For Peiper, who as Parker states was probably suffering from Hepatitis, it was a campaign too far. In the eyes of the old hands the rumour was he was no longer ‘combat worthy’ and he was once more removed from the front. What follows in the book is the Combat History of the SS in Normandy and it’s a skilfully written account. From the slaughter at Falaise to the headlong retreat to the Reich.

    Excellently annotated maps and numerous photos, quite a few of which were new to me, add to the quality of Parker’s work and the 150 pages of notes give an indication of the level of research. His next book is on Peiper in the Ardennes. I’m already looking forward to it. I'd doubt those with a predilection for dressing up in black are though.

    Peiper's War

    PaulE, stolpi and von Poop like this.
  2. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Recently.... 12 mins audio - We Have Ways - podcast...

    The Life and Crimes of Joachim Peiper from We Have Ways of Making You Talk | Podbay

    Or: The Life and Crimes of Joachim Peiper

    The Life and Crimes of Joachim Peiper
    He served on both the Eastern and Western Fronts and was a ruthless Nazi ideologue. After the war Peiper was found guilty of war crimes for murdering prisoners of war. Al Murray and James Holland discuss the life and violent death of the most famous German panzer commander of the war.
  3. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Most famous? That’s as good an explanation as I could give as to why I never listen to that podcast.
  4. PaulE

    PaulE Senior Member

    I'm a huge supporter of Danny Parkers work , his Battle of the Bulge books in particular but with regard to this latest book does he in fact include much additional information compared to his earlier book on Peiper Hitlers Warrior or in comparison to other works on Peiper such as Agte's , Westemeiers and Reynolds books ?
  5. PaulE

    PaulE Senior Member

    A good decision , as we are in lockdown i thought i'd give it a try with a view to possibly learning something ... well i wasted 12 mins of my life as the history content was minimal and some of it downright inaccurate or just made up !!
  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Each time a new publication appears about this man, I take Janice Holt Giles' "The damned engineers" from my bookcase to read about the real Heroes of this story.

    Another favourite is Col. David E.Pergrin, "First Across the Rhine, the story of the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion".
    Last edited: May 1, 2020
    PaulE likes this.
  7. PaulE

    PaulE Senior Member

    Can't argue with that Col David Pergrin should be widely recognised as one of the real heroes of the Battle of the Bulge .
    stolpi likes this.

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