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
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
3.7 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
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