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'Bulge Book' Review : 'Gustav Knittel' by Timo R Worst.

Discussion in 'ETO, MTO and the Eastern Front' started by Martin Bull, Aug 22, 2016.

  1. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    I've been awaiting publication of this book for years, so it's a real pleasure to be able to review it ( and a greater pleasure to read... )

    The author has been a sometime contributor here for a long time and many of us were aware that he has been ( for decades ) collecting information about KG Knittel in the Bulge.And here is the result - 'Career, Crimes & Trial Of SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Gustav Knittel- Commander Of The Aufklarungsabteilung 'LSSAH'.

    So, this is a slightly (!) biased review but let's be clear about two things - so often (being honest) if a book is published by someone we 'know' ( even if only online ) the book is read as a kind of duty. Not so here ! This is a fascinating account, deeply researched and skilfully produced. And another confession - as a Bulge enthusiast, I expected to skip through the earlier parts to get to the 'good part'.Again, not so!

    I have read many amateurishly written books ( and I respect them, when English is not the author's natural language ). But here, very importantly, the author has shrewdly arranged for his work to be edited by an Irish historian. As a result, it's eminently 'readable', never flagging in pace and with typos and grammatical errors almost totally absent.

    With the subject of the book long since passed away ( and also many of those who knew him ) it must have been a challenging task to recreate a life and Timo has done a superb job. I found the France 1940 and Eastern Front sections full of interest ( a warning here ; I'm not a 'beginner' when reading about the LSSAH so I was familiar with many of the 'names' which crop up such as Bremer, Panzermeyer, Wisch and so on ). As well as biography, the book almost stands as a potted history of the Leibstandarte's recce force, with much that was new to me. There is considerable detail here of the unit's activities. The Normandy section is also powerful and certainly highlights the heavy losses taken there.

    Anyhow - to the Bulge. All I can say is that I found ( and will continue to find ) this section essential reading. The actions above Stavelot , Trois Ponts, and at Petit Spai are carefully detailed. These were confusing actions and previously, have only been sketchily covered in books like 'Men Of Steel' by Reynolds and Blair's 'Ridgways Paratroopers'. I've walked these areas many times and now the events of 1944 make more sense. A note here also for the impressive selection of photos which are cleverly located at the end of each relevant section.

    Which brings us, of course, to the crimes. Here I'll only say that the author deals with these events in shocking detail - the reader needs to form their own opinion. At the very least, the book forces the reader to appreciate the extent of the horrors visited on the occupants of the Ardennes in Winter 1944 - something often overlooked.

    As now familiar in WWII books ( including those by Bulge authors like Parker, Reynolds and Wijers ) many first-hand accounts are used to great effect throughout. For me, the jewel in this books' crown are the reminiscences of Knittel's adjutant Hans-Martin Leidreiter ( who is seen in the famous photo of Knittel taken at Vaulx-Richard ). The author was fortunate enough to have corresponded at length with Leidreiter before his passing. And yes, he even tells the story behind 'that' photo !

    It seems a shame that this book, being self-published, will probably see only limited circulation. Surely it'd be good to have a 'Stackpole'- type reprint at some stage ?

    I've written too much here - ultimately, Knittel seems a somewhat sad character. The photo of the balding Sturmbannfuhrer beaming indulgently at his young ( French ) bride is especially poignant.....

    I know that my copy will accompany me when I return to the Ardennes. I can't recommend it as an introductory Bulge read....but apart from that, I recommend it very highly indeed.

    Treat yourself - buy it ! :grad:
     
  2. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member Patron  

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    Martin, thank you for this insightful review. One is urged to buy it but I hope it comes out in e-reader form at some point as I cannot read standard type sizes. Your post have a reputation for being well thought out so this is a good send off for Herr Worst.

    Many e-boots are expensive so that form would allow the duplication with good earnings to the author.. It sounds like a "labor of love" effort.

    Gaines
     
  3. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    What the Professor said... Yes, excellent review!

    I believe another edition is in the works through Amazon. If that is true then it will be available worldwide and for many years into the future. I hope that does come off because this is (in my opinion) the definitive work on LAH, even though it concentrates on Knittel's recce unit. I say this guiltily, because I've only scratched the surface reading the sections that deal with my beloved 30th ID.

    I need to sit down and read it thoroughly and make copious notes. I've been putting that off for some weeks, like a wine aficionado saving a rare vintage for the right time.
     
  4. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    Well, you've sold me, Martin.
     
  5. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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    Thank you ever so much for the wonderful review Martin, I had not noticed that you started a new topic for it! And thank you for the kind words Keith!

    We considered an e-reader version but it is not to be released in the near future. A hardcover edition of the book will be added to the webshop next week...

    http://www.boekenbestellen.nl/boek/gustav-knittel/17352?lang=en

    Regarding "that photo" mentioned by Martin... :)

    The 18th of December 1944: Leidreiter and Knittel in the hamlet of La Vaulx Richard. The photos appear to be staged, especially the conferring of the maps, but Leidreiter stated: “The pictures that our PK-Fritzen took of Knittel and myself were made in front of Stavelot when Knittel switched to the new route of advance. We did not look at those maps for our PK comrades!” ‘PK-Fritzen’ was their nickname for the war correspondences and photographers from the Propagandakompanie of the SS (Letter from Hans-Martin Leidreiter to the author, dated the 11th of September 2005).

    [​IMG]
     
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  6. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    And this, I think, is pretty much the same area today - although PK-berichter Bull should have moved a bit to the left to get the correct angle.....anyhow, I thought it may brighten up the thread !

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  7. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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    It definitely is...

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  8. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    What a stroke of luck ! By a foolish oversight, I didn't have a copy of the original photo in the car that morning........
     
  9. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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    No doubt you've got a 6th sense for it ;)

    Probably nothing new for those who followed my Knittel postings though the years but that's a "Beute" Dodge staff car to their left. Steinbüchel assumed that it was in the French town of le Mesnil-Tôve that Knittel found the American Dodge WC56, 57 or 58 staff car which served as his command vehicle during the rest of the campaign at the invasion front and later in the Ardennes. Upon entering that town on the 7th of August 1944 during the opening stages of the Mortain counter-attack, the Aufkl.Abt. surprised the cannon company of the 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th US Infantry Division. The American gun crews managed to escape but were forced to leave their trucks and 105mm M3 howitzers behind.
     
  10. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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  11. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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  12. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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    I found this note from Helmuth Merscher from 2004 among my files:

    “Hallo Timo! How are you, I hope well as is still the case with me and Alfons.* We will meet again in La Gleize on the 16th of Dec. Jupp [Steinbüchel] will be there too, Alfons is not allowed to join us, he must go to Zweibrücken with his wife for Chrismas celebrations. I will therefore come alone. On the 15th Dec he could have come with me. [SS-Obersturmführer Hans-Martin] Leidreiter called me, he had received the biography through [Hans] Fischach en said you have researched very well. He wants to know how you found out all this, especially about Hermann Weiser. He was just a young whippersnapper at the time, barely 20 years old and was a Sturmmann, but later became R.O.B. He can hardly wait and asked me to call you. Please answer him soon.

    Kind regards and see you on the 16th of Dec.
    Your friend Helmuth"


    Alfons Sproß was also an SS-Pz.AA1 veteran (Puma driver) and lived only a few blocks away from Merscher. After Merscher became a widower he had a hard lime taking care of himself. Frau Sproß used to cook for him and Alfons would bring it over in a pan wrapped in towels to keep the food warm. During our last meeting with Helmuth at his house in Güdingen, we had Knödeln with bacon for lunch which Alfons brought over and Helmuth served us a mix drink of beer and cola because “that’s what young folks like” he figured. An all round nice guy who is greatly missed.

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    From left to right Jupp Steinbüchel, Helmuth Merscher and Alfons Sproß during one of our meetings...
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    Helmuth Merscher was drafted into the Waffen-SS in autumn 1944:

    “We travelled by train from the [SS-Ausbildungs-und-Ersatz-Abteilung] ‘Totenkopf’ over Berlin to the training grounds and from there to the 3. Kompanie of the AA1 in Marienberghausen. There were very few vehicles, just some armoured halftracks that had been brought back from Normandy but they were soon handed over to the maintenance battalion. We were then transferred to Eichhorst where we were trained. But we were not allowed to drive due to fuel shortages. In Eichhorst, Wawrzinek reorganised everything. The 3. Kompanie was equipped with Schwimmwagens and we youngsters had to take driving lessons, mostly theoretical because there was no fuel.”

    The boys had six weeks of basic training at the most. Many of them only had two hours of driving practice. Helmuth lost both his legs in the Ardennes due to frost bite and was still hospitalised when Germany surrendered. However, two artificial legs did not stop him from driving his car. He died in 2015.

    Helmuth Merscher as a teenager in RAD uniform, months before he was drafted into the Waffen-SS...

    [​IMG]
     
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  13. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    Very interesting indeed ! Looking back over this thread there is no doubt that, as we near the end of the year, this book is easily my favourite military history book of 2016.....
     
  14. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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    [​IMG]

    Early January 1945: SS-Obersturmführer Hans-Martin Leidreiter - acting commander of the SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1 "LSSAH" - presents the Iron Cross 2nd class to SS-Rottenführer Paul Krafzig from 2. Kompanie, who survived the American attack on the western edge of Stavelot (photo courtesy of Helmut Merscher).

    After the "Schnelle Gruppe Knittel" was withdrawn from the Amblève Pocket, Knittel had reorganised his unit in Wanne. The Leibstandarte was then sent to Bastogne, in support of the German attempt to force a break through there. Enroute, the battalion paused at Bech, a hamlet in the Vielsalm-Salmchâteu area. It was there on the afternoon of the 31st of December that they were accidentally caught up in an air raid by 16 ‘Boston’ and 12 ‘Mitchell’ bombers from the 2nd Group, 2nd Tactical Air Force of the British Royal Air Force. The bombs dropped had been intended for nearby Vielsalm. Knittel sustained a serious concussion in this strike which resulted in him being hospitalised in Germany, thus SS-Hauptsturmführer Wawrzinek took over the Aufklärungsabteilung in his place. At the ‘Kameradentreffen’, organised by the companies of the Aufklärungsabteilung after the war, it became a popular anecdote that Knittel had a smile on his face when he left Bech on a stretcher. It is impossible to determine whether or not this story is true, but it reflects that many of his former subordinates held him in extremely low esteem after the war. In 1946 Knittel stated that he was hospitalised in Ulm Hospital, this was also confirmed by his son who added that his mother had visited his father shortly after the turn of the year. From his hospital bed, Knittel’s words prove that he was fully aware of the consequences of his unit’s actions in the Ardennes. He pointedly admitted to his wife that ‘Stavelot wird noch Ärger bereiten’ (Stavelot will cause anger/trouble).

    Wawrzinek was wounded on the 2nd of January 1945 and was replaced by Leidreiter.

    http://www.boekenbestellen.nl/boek/gustav-knittel/9789492475558?lang=en
     
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  15. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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    As a little extra something that is not included in the book: the original letter in which Stabskompanie commander SS-Obersturmführer Goltz informs mrs. Prieß that her husband Josef had been killed in action (courtesy of the late Helmuth Merscher).





    On the 4th of January 1945 at 14.00hrs, the decimated Aufklärungsabteilung of the Leibstandarte - it could only field the "Stabskompanie" (HQ Company) and the 1. Kompanie - attacked Brâs, a hamlet 8km east of Bastogne. As the Stabskompanie advanced through the woods 4km east of Brâs they ran into American machine gun fire. Prieß and his squad managed to further advance but was hit in the chest by an MG round a few metres in front of the American positions. Mortally wounded he died before his men could aid him and because the night set in the men were ordered to pull back. Other attempts to recover his body failed due to heavy enemy fire.





    SS-Unterscharführer Josef Prieß is buried at the German military cemetery in Recogne-Bastogne: Block 16, Grave 201.



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    www.facebook.com/gustavknittel
     
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  16. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Thanx for the great tip!
     
  17. Ruimteaapje

    Ruimteaapje Member

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    Some interview fragments from my Youtube channel...

    [youtube]

    [youtube]

    [youtube]
     
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  18. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    Having been away from the Forum for a while, I'm still searching through some of the older threads......most interesting to see Timo's YouTube recordings above.

    The second one - which refers to KG Knittel's escape back across the Ambleve River - prompted me to post the following pic. This is the Petit Spai Bridge as it is today ( the replacement for the one collapsed by a Jagdpanzer IV in December 1944 ). The photo was taken from just below the site of the chateau looking across the Ambleve to the just-visible Stavelot-Trois Ponts road.....

    [​IMG]
     

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