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Nations at war
Haasler, Timm et al. Duel in the Mist 2: The Leibstandarte during the Ardennes Offensive. Monroe, NY: Panzerwrecks, 2012
Acknowledgements; Foreword; photos; maps; Bibliography
Appendices: Refitting the Panzergrenadiere; Order of Battle 3./SS-PzPi.Btl. 1; Camouflage Patterns
For those of us who aren't theoretical physicists, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle statesmore or lessthat it's impossible to know simultaneously where a particle is and what it's doing. If each tank, gun, and soldier can be considered a particle, then perhaps Heisenberg's principle applies to military history as well.
At least it seems that waymore or lessin Duel in the Mist 2. It's easy enough to say that elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper clashed with American forces around Stoumont and Cheneux on 21 December 1944. But the authors want to reveal what each particle was up to during those engagementsand the nearby engagements before and afterand that's a more difficult task. It might have been easier for the authors if they simply relied on one or two customary sources. Instead, the authors sift through multiple books, unit diaries, wartime debriefings, post-war interviews, andvery importantlyarchival photographs to determine the locations and actions of all those particles.
In this case, it's not so much Heisenberg as the fallibilities and contradictions within all those sources that make the job difficult for authors, but quite engrossing for audiences.
For readers not familiar with the first volume of Duel in the Mist, this second volume begins rather abruptly, with little to set the scene or provide context. Indeed, the authorsthere are four of them: Timm Haasler, Roddy MacDougall, Simon Vosters, and Hans Weberthroughout the book seem to expect their audience will already know nearly as much about the battle as the they do, because there's not much here to help rookies get their footing. For example, although the first volume might have one, this volume has no larger map showing the wider battlefield. Instead, each small engagement has its own map, but provides no way of knowing where that little sector fits into the larger puzzle.
And to a certain extent the book deals with the battle by "looking down a straw," in the sense that the authors spend far more time focusing very tightly on very small parts of the story and seldom pause for a wide-angle view. The tightly focused snapshots often come directly from participants on both sides of the lines, as well as civilians caught in the middle. Of all the pages in the book, it looks like roughly a third to a half are covered by photos and maps. Of the text, approximately a quarter seems to be direct quotes from eyewitnesses.
For example, when Task Force McGeorge moves toward La Gleize, the authors can present testimony from a local resident (Dr Bastin), a German tank commander (Uscha. Daniel Mayer), and an American soldier (Bob Kauffman) about events. The authors also provide their own text, often comparing, contrasting, and clarifying the accounts of participants, whichsurprise, surprisedon't always agree. This can lead to some slightly esoteric, even droll, efforts by the authors to reconcile the differences. Was a particular tank knocked out by this enemy tank, or was that tank already out of action due to previous damage, and this enemy tank only shot up the wreckage? As Dr. Heisenberg demonstrated, these things are hard to pin down, and on at least one occasion the authors in this volume reverse a verdict they announced about an incident in the previous volume. Perhaps the title of this book alludes less to weather conditions in the Ardennes and more to the fog of war.
That's not to belittle Duel in the Mist at all. The authors have tackled a slippery subject, and they work diligently to uncover all relevant information, present all viewpoints, and draw the most accurate conclusions.
As an example, here's part of the detailed discussion about enumerating Peiper's panzers.
It would seem prudent to discuss the armoured forces available to Peiper in the CHENEUX, STOUMONT and LA GLEIZE area. The majority of the wrecked armour was left in the locations that it was either knocked out or was abandoned by its former owners until the summer of 1945 and in some cases later. The area was a rich prize for the American forces involved in the battle, who were keen to publicise their triumph over Adolf Hitler's Bodyguard Division. This ensured that various photographers were given access to the area and the opportunity to photograph the wrecks. Over the ensuing months, civilian photographers and various tourists would join these professional military photographers and also take numerous photos of the wrecks, often confirming their location and tactical numbers. We are fortunate as well that none of Kampfgruppe Peiper's tanks escaped the pocket they were trapped in. This fact makes it possible for us to build an accurate picture of the armoured capability available to Peiper.
Capt Stonesifer, the S-2 from the 119th Inf Rgt, conducted the official U.S. count of the different types of vehicles found within the 30th Inf Div's area of responsibility in STOUMONT, LA GLEIZE and their surroundings. This count gives the number of Panthers found as fifteen, while we are able to locate fourteen Panthers from the various photographs taken in the area. The established number of thirteen is based on Mr. Gregoire and his remarkable memory. However, Mr. Gregoire missed Panther 201 that was lost at Aux Ecuries de la Reine. Mr. Gregoire returned to LA GLEIZE a week after it had been liberated, by which time some of the material had already been removed, amongst it Panther 201. The American interest in Panther 201 might have stemmed from the fact that it was fitted with steel rimmed road wheels, but why they left 221 (also a "steel wheeler") lying just next to it we can not explain. We have not been able to locate a fifteenth Panther as yet and there is the possibility that the 30th Inf Div count included the Panther lost at Cheneux (131). However, Capt Stonesifer has not included any of the other vehicles found in CHENEUX in his count, which has proven to be extremely accurate so far, leading to the possibility of another Panther that was quickly removed from the vicinity of LA GLEIZE.
If we examine the number of vehicles available to each company, we can see that the maximum number of Panthers from the 1./SS-Pz.Rgt. 1 that might have been able to reach LA GLEIZE is ten. We know from various statements made by former members of the Kampfgruppe that seven vehicles from the seventeen available at the start of the Offensive had fallen out of the Kampfgruppe's column for one reason or another before reaching LA GLEIZE. Panther 111 eventually made it to LA GLEIZE, where it was photographed in front of the town hall before being driven to RUY by the Americans where it was also photographed. We also know that Uscha. Briesemeister's Panther arrived in LA GLEIZE along with Kremser/Hennecke's 101, Pidun's 102 and Mayer's 124 as the location of these vehicles has been identified from various statements and the fact that there are several photographs of these vehicles.
Ustuf. Hennecke had taken over Panther 101 in STAVELOT, this tank was later found facing west next to the town hall, which was the 1st Company's command post. This Panther was probably then taken over by Hscha. Skotz. Panther 102 is probably the tank taken over by Uscha. Richartz and was found next to Chemin Vielle Voie, above Tiger II 104 when the Americans occupied LA GLEIZE. There was also a 1st Company Panther found at DINHEID, we do not know who commanded this Panther while it was at DINHEID; Skotz, Plohmann, Drechsler and Nagel are all possible candidates. Due to its remote location there is only one known photograph of this vehicle.
Uscha. Briesemeister's Panther 114 stood next to a barn south of the Rue de l'eglise, facing south. It had some technical problems with the motor and final drives. Oscha. Strelow's Panther 12* has also been tentatively identified in photographs but for whatever reason it would appear that it was also evacuated from LA GLEIZE shortly after the Village was recaptured so that there are not many photos of this particular Panther. This is probably the Panther standing on the Rue de l'eglise near Panther 114. Oscha. Strelow was acting commander of the 2nd Platoon replacing Ustuf. Heubeck, who was at WANNE. The tactical number of Strelow's Panther was either 121 or 123.
Uscha. Mayer's Panther 124 stood near the crossroads on the N.33 at the north of the village. There is only one known photograph of Uscha. Neumann's Panther 13* which we have to assume is due to its remote location from the centre of the Village and the main roads. Uscha. Neumann's tank was later taken over by Uscha. Mayer. It stood at Ferme Hassoumont, facing east towards BORGOUMONT.
Apart from these vehicles and their crews two further candidates that might have reached LA GLEIZE are Uscha. Drechsler (125) and Uscha. Nagel (13x). Both men were present according to statements made during the Malmedy trial. However, this on its own is not enough proof: Uscha. Richartz, whose Panther 115, had been knocked out at the entrance to STAVELOT also continued on to LA GLEIZE. Drechsler is said to have taken over Mayer's Panther 124 when Mayer relieved the exhausted Neumann and his crew in their Panther. So that it is possible, that Drechsler was also in LA GLEIZE without his own tank.
The identification of these tanks and their commanders is complicated by the fact that upon arriving in LA GLEIZE, commanders and crews switched tanks to allow them to get some rest. Hennecke as the commander of the 1st Company must have spent most of his time at the command post and we think that Panther 101 was taken over by Hscha. Skotz or Rttf. Plohmann. The Kompanietruppfuhrer, Hscha. Pidun and his crew are also said to have spent most of their time at the command post. His tank was probably taken over by Richartz and his crew, who had lost their own vehicle, Panther 115, at STAVELOT. There are several photographs of Oscha. Thomas' Panther 131, as previously mentioned, this Panther was knocked out in CHENEUX. The tactical numbers on the turret are clearly visible so there is no doubt regarding its identity. This gives us eight Panthers from the 1st Company in LA GLEIZE itself with a further vehicle at CHENEUX giving a total of nine vehicles west of TROIS-PONTS.
The authors continue to calculate these numbers and identities in that fashion over the course of about nine pages. The same sort of determination to reconcile all the facts permeates the entire book.
Despite the subtitle, "The Leibstandarte during the Ardennes Offensive," at least half the text looks at American units and operations in opposition to the SS, and a large proportion of the first-hand quotes come from GIs. The maps are clear and colorful, but lack scale or direction (which way is north?) and, as mentioned above, there's no way of knowing where each patch of ground is located in relation to the other maps.
The photos represent an important aspect of the book, and the authors devote considerable effort to providing captions that precisely identify AFVs, their locations, and how they were KOd. For all that, however, the photos are mostly of derelict German tanks. Quite a few of the snapshots, by the way, feature Belgian civilians clambering upon the hulks. There are also a few "before and after" style shots that show a wartime scene compared to a current view taken from the same vantage. As would be expected from a publisher with an excellent record in the photographic realm, the images and captions add a huge bonus to the text, and for some folks the photos alone will be worth the price of admission.
Based on the evidence of this work, it appears that Haasler, MacDougall, Vosters, and Weber must be first-class researchers with extensive knowledge of the exact course of Peiper's battle in the Ardennes and all the surrounding minutiae. On the other hand, the same evidence suggests they might not be quite as skilled as writers. The book lives and dies on its extensive digging into obscure facts and precise measurements and conclusions rather than its adequate but uninspired prose. Of course, the photos provide a big boost.
Even if Heisenberg's principle holds true here, and we can never really know exactly what happened at the minuscule scale of individual tanks, guns, soldiers, and other particles, the authors have done an excellent and engrossing job of reconstructing as much of the situation as possible. Their work should appeal to a large number of fans of the Bulge, the Leibstandarte Division, panzers, small unit actions, personal accounts, and historical photographs, and perhaps even a few theoretical physicists.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Panzerwrecks.
Thanks to Panzerwrecks for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 11 March 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone