GUSTAV KNITTEL - the Biography

Career, crimes and trial of SS-Sturmbannführer Gustav Knittel Commander of the Aufklärungsabteilung ´LSSAH´

gustav knittel at
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ISBN/EAN: 978-94-9247-554-1

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ISBN/EAN: 978-94-9247-555-8


In the summer of 1946, Gustav Knittel, a 31-year old former SS officer from the Bavarian town of Neu-Ulm, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders his battalion, Schnelle Gruppe Knittel, had committed in and around the Belgian town of Stavelot during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

The author, Timo R. Worst, reconstructed Knittel’s personal life, his military career in the Waffen-SS and both his personal involvement in the grim story of that horrendous week in the Ardennes and the role the men under his command played in the murder of over a hundred civilians and unarmed prisoners of war.

Not content with the published works about the beastly behaviour of the SS in Stavelot and the surrounding hamlets, he felt compelled to visit the Ardennes himself, to search the archives and ultimately to contact veterans of Knittel’s battalion and to consult his family.

By providing the available pieces of the puzzle, Worst allows the reader to follow Knittel’s footsteps: his entry in the SS, the units he led traversing Europe from France and Greece to Italy, Ukraine and Belgium, the men under his command, the battles he fought and awards he won, but also his doubts about the outcome of the war and how this effected his state of mind, the massacres, his arrest, the trial and his post-war life.

The resulting book enables the reader to see through the multiple smoke screens created not only by Knittel, his defence lawyers and his wartime comrades, but also by his captors, his interrogators and the prosecution, all who knowingly fudged, were evasive or downright lied about the facts in order to ensure the success of their own personal motives and political.

Table of content

1.1 Childhood and school years

1.2 The Allgemeine SS

1.3 SS-Standarte ‘Deutschland’

1.4 Officer course at the SS-Junkerschule in Bad Tölz

1.5 Motorcyclist

2.1 Baptism of fire

2.2 Formation of the Aufklärungsabteilung ‘LSSAH’

2.3 Operation ‘Marita’

2.4 The invasion of the Soviet-Union

2.5 Formation of the 3. (le. SPW) Kompanie

2.6 Turning the tide at Kharkiv

2.7 The ‘Schrippenbäcker von Ulm’ becomes battalion commander

2.8 Operation ‘Citadel’

2.9 Disarming the Italians and guarding their ‘Duce’

3.1 The Soviet Juggernaut

3.2 “You want to call yourself Leibstandarte?”

3.3 The German Cross in Gold and the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross

3.4 The long road to marriage

3.5 Rebuilding the Aufklärungsabteilung in Belgium

3.6 Invasion!

3.7 Operation ‘Lüttich’

3.8 Hell in the Falaise Pocket

3.9 Doubts about the Final Victory

4.1 The horrible week in the Ardennes begins

4.2 The massacre in Wéreth

4.3 “They’ve killed a good few at the crossroads”

4.4 The killings in la Vaulx Richard

4.5 The American counterattack on Stavelot

4.6 Back to Stavelot

4.7 The advance on Stavelot

4.8 The war crimes in Ster, Renardmont Parfondruy and Trois-Ponts

4.9 Failed attempt to outflank the defenders

4.10 The massacre in the garden of the Legaye house

4.11 The American response

4.12 The murders near the Château de Petit-Spay

4.13 The American attacks on Ster, Renardmont and Parfondruy

4.14 Stavelot is lost

4.15 Retreat from the Amblève Pocket

5.1 Until the end of the war

5.2 The search for Knittel

5.3 Imprisonment in Ulm

5.4 Schwäbisch Hall

5.5 On trial

5.6 War Criminals Prison No. 1

5.7 The lone wolf

gustav knittel trial at

Recommended by Danny S. Parker, author

In this new biography of Waffen-SS officer Gustav Knittel, Timo Worst documents the life of a man who would become the head of the reconnaissance battalion of the 1st SS Panzer Division in Hitler’s Third Reich. Knittel’s life mirrors the prospects and war path of other officers in the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler – a formation which developed an infamous reputation for brutality and war crimes in the Second World War.

How did this state of affairs come to be? Worst gives us many details which amount to a war-time mosaic of what it meant to be an SS officer in Hitler’s most favoured combat formation. With Knittel’s life as a central pivot, we gain new insight into the savage actions in which his reconnaissance battalion became engaged, both on the Eastern Front and in the West. It is then hardly surprising that as the combat heir to Kurt Meyer, Knittel’s command developed a savage reputation.

Nor did the affair end with the war. As we learn about the post war Malmédy trial and how Knittel and the others under him successfully campaigned to escape the hangman at Landsberg prison. Ultimately, they were released into a Germany that bore little resemblance to the one for which they had fought from 1939-45.
While SS officers such as Peiper, Meyer and Mohnke have previously been covered in recent literature this is a new contribution with revealing details and revelations regarding Gustav Knittel. Recommended.

Danny S. Parker

80 years ago, 1944

Fragment from :
Career, crimes and trial of SS-Sturmbannführer
Commander of the Aufklärungsabteilung 'LSSAH'

From chapter 3.6 Invasion !


. . . . . . . On the 23rd of June the Aufklärungsabteilung moved to Les Moutiers-en-Cinglais, a hundred kilometres west of Rugles and only twenty kilometres south of Caen. SS-Obersturmführer Reuß remained in Rugles with his Versorgungskompanie to provide a ‘Stützpunkt’ (supply point). Both SS-Brigadeführer Wisch and Knittel set up their command posts in the Château de la Bagotière.  For the time being, Wisch held the Aufklärungsabteilung in reserve. Also on that day, Knittel welcomed back the newlywed SS-Obersturmführer Heinz Goltz who had returned to the Aufklärungsabteilung that day.[i] SS-Obersturmführer Hans-Georg Walter still suffered from the lung wound he sustained at Kursk in July 1943 and Goltz was to replace him as commander of the Stabskompanie.[ii] SS-Oberscharführer Kurt Landrichter, the company squad leader of the battalion staff, recalled that the occupants of the château foreboded the danger, packed their belongings on a car and carts and left for the hinterland:


“We took up positions in front of a castle – a hundred meters behind us the stone wall of the overgrown castle grounds. In the west the front thundered and rumbled. […] We did not know when we would be deployed. We found small shelters covered with wooden beams. We did not know who built them but they were to render us good services.”[iii]


It seems certain that the shelters had been built by members of the Vorausabteilung and it explained why the occupants of the château had fled: the presence of German vehicles in and near the castle grounds attracted Allied fighter-bombers like flies to honey. Landrichter continued:


“At dawn the Jabos were back in the sky. They hunted down anything that moves. And then the enemy artillery set in – really heavy stuff – apparently also naval artillery burbled over our heads. This went on all day and we heard very little from our own artillery.[iv]


The battle noises of the fighting between the ‘Hitlerjugend’ division and the enemy could also clearly been heard at Knittel’s command post. The 12. SS-Panzer-Division had been involved in heavy combat against British and Canadian forces northwest of Caen and to make up for its losses, the ninety men who had been transferred from the ‘Hitlerjugend’ division to the Aufklärungsabteilung to bolster the 3. (SPW) Kompanie were now ordered to return to their former unit. What remained was only a platoon-sized outfit led by SS-Untersturmführer Wilhelm Stein while Leidreiter returned to his trusted position as Knittel’s aide. The Germans assembled a strong armoured force to counter the Allied attempts to capture Caen: the 1. SS-Panzerkorps (1. and 12. SS-Panzer-Division), the LXXXVI. Armeekorps (16. Luftwaffe-Division and part of the 21. Panzer-Division and the II. SS-Panzerkorps comprising of the 9. and 10. SS-Panzer-Division). While other elements of the Leibstandarte were pushed into action, the Aufklärungsabteilung was still held in reserve. The terrain of mixed woodland and pasture known as ‘bocage’ was proving to be totally unsuited for classic reconnaissance which was off course further hampered by the ubiquitous Allied fighter-bombers and the constant shelling by heavy artillery including the dreaded naval guns.[v] Due to the Allied air superiority, the German army ground to a complete standstill during daylight hours. SS-Obersturmführer Leidreiter recounted their depressing circumstances:


“I was scarcely on the move during daytime. Once, when all German armoured divisions were already west of the Orne River, Knittel asked me to find out what the situation was east of the Orne. The Abteilungsadjutant and an aircraft spotter roared off in a Schwimmwagen: ‘you’ve got all day!’ It was a ‘Geisterfahrt’! (Ghost ride) Two hundred or three hundred kilometres, the landscape was absolutely deserted. In the few villages we only encountered horse drawn German units. Depressing!  Around noon I stood all alone on the Channel coast, not a soul in sight. To the west far away on the horizon a coastline. Smokescreen – which was no need for since our Luftwaffe was non-existent. I could clearly hear the naval artillery of the invasion fleet. With my binoculars I discovered a few men on the waterfront. I approached them carefully. It was a group of German navy personnel, about ten men. No vehicles, no backup, apparently two manned torpedoes, clearly not ready for action. For a layman, somehow primitive – pathetic? In the evening I reported to Knittel. Otherwise I was mainly on the road at night. Mostly to Peiper for tactical reasons.”[vi]


On the 30th of June, the 1. SS-Panzerkorps was pulled back to the south of Caen for both a rest and to act as reserve. However, both the ‘Hitlerjugend’ division and elements from the Leibstandarte were soon under attack from massed British and Canadian forces. While they managed to hold their lines most of the Leibstandarte including the Aufklärungsabteilung stayed well hidden in the Forêt de Cinglais. Over the following weeks the Allied commander, General Bernard Law Montgomery, launched a series of attempts to break through the stubborn German defence resulting in the eventual capture of the northern part of Caen on the 9th of July. However, their advance to the northern bank of the Orne River was halted as all bridges were either destroyed or heavily defended. Still in reserve with the divisional staff, the Aufklärungsabteilung was moved from Moutiers-en-Cinglais to Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil, then to nearby Garcelles-Secqueville. On the 18th of July the Allied forces launched operation ‘Goodwood’, aimed at pushing the Germans off the Bourguébus Ridge and out of their positions between Bretteville-sur-Laize and Vimont.


[i] Belgian interrogation report signed by Lieutenant G. Desmedt dated the 23rd of February 1947 (courtesy of Matthieu Longue).

[ii] Walter was commandeered to the SS hospital in Hohenlychen near Berlin where SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Med. Focht diagnosed that plural emphysema in the right thorax caused by penetration of the lung had caused a reduced nutritional condition. He recommended immediate transfer to the SS hospital in Bayrischzell for further treatment (NARA, personal files).

[iii] Landrichter, Kurt: unpublished manuscript courtesy of Jupp Steinbüchel.

[iv] Steinbüchel, the 26th of April 2012.

[v] On the 28th of June SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 1 ‘LSSAH’ under SS-Obersturmbannführer Weidenhaupt counterattacked along Route National 175 in support of the 12. SS-Panzer-Division. Allied ships even blasted the panzer grenadiers with 38cm shells in their assembly area and despite some gains the attack soon faltered (Tiemann IV/1, page 121).

[vi] Leidreiter, the 30th of December 2006.


Sample pages