(Document Source) Are official translations of briefs of the war experiences of (ex) SS-Oberstgruppenführer Josef Sepp Dietrich, wartime CG of the 6.Panzer-Army, and (ex) SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper, wartime CO of the Kampfgruppe Peiper, 1.SS-Panzer-Regiment, 1.SS-Panzer-Division LSSAH), 1.SS Panzer-Corps, written by then for Col Burton F. Ellis, trial judge advocate, while they were awaiting trial for the Malmédy Massacre.
Highly esteemed Colonel Ellis,
According to your wishes, I have tried to make up a report about the war years 1939-1945, as I have joined, participated in and seen them. I cannot pass judgment on the outer or inner economic and political events as it did not belong to my field of interest or work, and for seven years I was nearly always at the front outside of Germany. In the hope to have made this report according to your wishes, I remain Yours respectfully and faithfully.
/s/ Sepp Dietrich
At the outbreak of the war with Poland, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler under my leadership as Regimental Commander was assigned to the Wehrmacht becoming a part of the army of Generalfeldmarshall Maximilian von Weichs. The Regiment was committed to the Bzdura sector to the surrounding of Kuhno and the Modlin fortress. With the capitulation of Warsaw, the campaign with Poland was at an end. The troops of both the warring states are to be judged as of the same quality. For this short campaign the equipment and training were quite suitable.
1940, Campaign in the West
By continuous utilization of the Polish campaign experiences with the troops from Autum 1939 to Spring 1940 they succeeded to train the German Army for attack or defense, and to make preparation for a long war. The completion, improvement and the armament of the Westwall were completed and powerfully manned. The War Economy was put into gear. An improvement in weapons could be expected. The weapons in the hands of the troops did not show any substantial improvements or advantages since the last World War. Also in the field of the motorization of the troops was not much useful materiel at hand. The tanks II and III only partly satisfied the demands of the troops. The Ordnance Department of the Army and Industry did not find a useful solution for a long time.
On May 8, 1940, the Fuehrer’s Headquarters ordered the attack on Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands and France. The soldiers fell in at 5 o’clock in the morning of May 10, 1940. The General Staff had made careful plans for the attack and further operations. The German Army, though not quite up to its full strength at that time, was strong enough to make the attack with success. Lower and medium command of the troops was well trained. The supplier with ammunition, fuel, spare parts for weapons and food was prepared and guaranteed.
The leadership as also the troops knew that a hard fight was ahead of them. Had not, indeed, a part of the officers participated in the first World War in the West, 1914-1918. The French as also the British soldiers were hard fighters and also, at that time already, superior in materials. Therefore only a good prepared surprise attack, almost worked out taking to the last minute and the last out of the troops, could lead to a success. The Netherlands were quickly overrun. The Belgian Army surprised was forced into capitulation. By a quick push to the channel the French troops got separated from the British and forced into a withdrawal. Italy entered the war which did not help Germany but only brought a burden. Not only material but also military aid had to be given (Africa Corps). The Western Campaign 1940 came to an end with the capitulation of France. The success was great but did not bring peace.
An immediate pursuit of the British Army into England was, according to the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine, not possible. The necessary shipping space for this was not available. The Luftwaffe, as also the Kriegsmarine, were not capable to furnish the army with the necessary protection for a landing in England. The British navy still untouched and in full fighting strength had to be calculated into the risk of this undertaking. The German General Staff had given up the plan for a channel crossing and landing in England and our troops became not anymore offensive but defensive. The losses of men and material was replaced, new divisions were ordered to be set up. My regiment got transferred to Metz, reorganized into a motorized infantry division and trained.
Italy had to suffer reverses in Greece and Germany had to send aid. At the end February 1941 the army of Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List to which also my division belonged got transported by way of Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria into Greece to aid Italy. In the middle of March 1941 after the necessary preparations for the offensive were taken, we lined up for the attack. My division was the right wing of the army and received the order to open up the gate to Greece. After a ten hotfight the Klidipass, the entrance gate into Greece, was in German hands. On April 20, the Greek General of the High Commander asked for an armistice and offered the capitulation of the army, which I signed at 7 o’clock in the evening. The Greek army had free passage, the officers kept their arms.
Careful preparations led also in Greece to quick success. Right after the termination of the war with Greece my division was recalled, transferred to the training camp at Brun, and refitted for front line duty. In the meantime war with Russia had broken out. Not ready yet for offensive employment the division was moved in the middle of June to Russia and attached to the 3.Panzer-Korps. At this time, the German Army had grown to its full power and strength.
During the attack on Russia the German armies had encountered very strong resistance. After a battle of several days great breaks into the Russian lines could be accomplished. The left wing of the 1.Panzer-Army of Generalfeldmarschall Ludwig Ewald von kleist has reached Kiev and with this opened up the Ukraine for the army group south under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt. The Stalin line was penetrated and had to be abandoned after a battle of several days. The advance of the Krim and the Black Sea did not bring any stiff battles. The Russian Army had detached itself and offered only delaying resistance.
The army groups Middle and North were also successful and were advancing. Until October 1941 we could advance in the North as far as before Petrograd, in the middle before Moscow; and in the south before Rostov. In November the mud season in the whole of Russia started which made an advance nearly impossible. The materiel, already much used, had to be employed more than before. The first difficulties in the far supply route of spare parts for vehicles and fuel appeared. In the end of November 1941 further advance had to be halted because of a complete stoppage of fuel.
The very harsh winter of 1941-1942 brought great difficulties for the Germans in all spheres of supply. Through this, the whole Eastern front came to a standstill and we had to go over to the defensive. The preparation of positions without timber gave us great anxiety. The ground, frozen down to 1,1-M and the cold to minus 45 degrees very much deteriorated the health of the troops who were without winter equipment. An improvement of the supply was not possible on account of the bad railroad connections.
70% of all vehicles were frozen and only 10% could be kept ready to move on account of the bad fuel supply. The Russian armies in their own land could make good use of the time the German armies were immobilized. They could reorganize their troops, and put thorn in readiness for the spring to oppose a new movement of the German troops.
The German spring offensive started with an attack on the Krim. Sebastopol and the peninsula of Korth were taken. The second attack through Rostov at the Kaukasus was also progressing and was to secure the fuel for the further conduct of the war, but the Russian army attacked strongly on the left flank and affected a withdrawal. The Kaukasus got lost. Dom and Rostov had to be abandoned, which meant a groat loss for the further conduct of the war. The Russian troops followed right at the heels of the withdrawing Germans. Stalingrad became encircled and had to be abandoned later. With this the 6.Army with 200.000 men, officers, and the total equipment became lost.
This meant for the Eastern front a very hard blow, from which they never could recover. Also the left flank of the Army Group South was strongly attacked and thrown back. Italy and Hungary could not stop the Russian assault. Along the total southern front no enemy had broken in and pressed the German troops back. Here Charkov became lost. The second winter, even if not as harsh as the first one, gave great anxiety to the high command. Equipment and men were used to the extreme.
From the west the halting of the Russian advance in the winter 1942-1943 succeeded only by the quickly bringing up of divisions. The German Armament industry was again always able to meet the demands of the troops. Improved and now weapons Panzer IV, assault guns and anti-tank guns arrived. In the field of motorization in cross-country vehicles, great progress had been made.
The supplies by rail had improved quite a bit during the second winter. Only the worries about the fuel did not become much less. The great losses of men and officers became very noticeable. The reserves who arrived was not sufficient at all to replenish the losses. The divisions remained far below their normal strength. At the Army Groups North and Middle the situation was not much better. The Luftwaffe was presented with the same worries. The Stalingrad and Jasma pockets brought the Luftwaffe the greatest losses of pilot and machines.
Without regards the supply of the encircled troops had to be carried through. On May 6 1943, the left wing of Army Group South together with the right wing of Army Group Center was ordered to take offensive action and to close the Belserod-Orel pocket. This attack was intercepted and repulsed by the Russians on the 5th day of the battle. The taken ground had to be evaluated under great losses.The enemy prepared for a counter attack with very strong tank forces, and the front could not be held. Many men and equipment got lost at this time.
Africa was given up and got lost. Italy did not keep up her promises and treaties. With the armies in dissolution, the navy went over to the enemy. This was a hard blow for the German conduct of the war. Thus, the troops who had been destined for the East had to be sent to the South. Day and night the enemy air forces flew over Germany in greater and greater concentration and destroyed industry, traffic network, and cities. Re-shifting had to take place to a great extent, which resulted in the loss of thousands of working hours. The supply of the front with weapons and fuel decreased more and more. All efforts of human endeavor to hold the fronts were of no avail. The new formation of Volkgrenadier divisions, of briefly and badly trained reserves for the front produced more worries than help. The West according to all indications and preparations of the enemy an invasion and to be expected. Indications for this were the continuous attacks on bridges, traffic notworks and industry.
Preparations for an immediate repulse of an invasion were inadequate, the troops earmarked for this in no account sufficient. The supply route to the troops for fuel and ammunition was much too long and continuously surprised by aircraft. 50% of the allocated quantity got shot down and destroyed on the transport. All routes of approach were continuously under control from the air. It was nearly impossible to move on the road by daylight. The bringing up of troops and equipment could only take place at nighttime, and also that only during a few hours as it was summertime. At the invasion front neither the Luftwaffe nor the Kriegsmarine gave the army any support. It was impossible for the army alone to stop the invasion with the troops available. All efforts and commitments were unsuccessful. We had to back up the defense, for which the tanks forces were the least suitable. As we could not rely on more troops and the enemy brought up reinforcements of troops and equipment continuously we had to count with a break through the invasion front. Men and equipment of our own troops were not all or only in a small measure replaced. Reports and cries for help were not heard by the G.H.Q. of the Fuehrer but, if yes then it was always too late.
After the hard fighting of 64 days duration, the invasion front collapsed, and the German troops, although delaying the enemy, had to fall back to the Westwall. Sabotage on roads and communications lines impeded the withdrawal. A lot of men and equipment was lost at this time. Insufficient preparations and not enough available troops caused the collapse of the invasion front. Success could not be denied to the far superior enemy materiel and the young and fresh troops. Only our last effort we succeeded to build up a defensive position to the west. The last reserves has to be brought up. Now the total war was started at the Propaganda ministry, probably overlooked that it was too late already because the German people were at the end of their strength. Only the figure-jugglers and the inventors of God’s miracle weapons had the vigor to win the war.
The winter of 1943-1944 brought along the whole front heavy defeats which could not be made good in any way. Though Panzer V Panther and VI Tiger I and II had started rolling, they only reached the troops very slowly on account of the continuous air attacks. The German Luftwaffe had in no way recuperated from the heavy losses sustained in the winter of 1943, and could therefore only give limited protection to Germany proper.
Finland and Romania got evacuated and the troops transported back only under the most difficult circumstances. In the East and West the enemy had reached and crossed the German borders. Germany got covered with the heaviest bombs and attacked with low flying aircraft day and night, which made the industry and traffic road nets almost useless. The supply of the front line and also of Germany proper could no maintained only with uttermost effort. Coal, coke and also the electricity supply for the industrial economy were everywhere extremely scarce. All this pressed the German people more and more to the ground, and in any case was not conducive to lift the morale at the front line. In the East a new offensive menaced us and in the West a bitter fight at the Westwall and a penetration of the Ruhr district. Once again the German army had to fall in for the battle in the West. Hitler himself tried to convince his generals that there was no other way but order an attack this winter and become the attacker again. Everything still there was to be put at disposal : tanks, planes, ammunition and fuel. Only the soldiers were the old divisions already so often beaten down, and the reserves, badly trained on account of lack of time and fuel; thus violating basic principle for the success of a battle. No preliminary conferences, map studies, or reconnaissance of the terrain was allowed to take place. Strictest secrecy was ordered. Even though the surprise attack succeeded, it could not be of long duration. The ground, the season, insufficient supply of ammunition and fuel were no ideal answer for Panzer armies, but an ambition for far-reaching aims. The last ounce of strength Germany still possessed was expended. Precipitation and bad preparation lead in the battle of the Ardennes, too to no success.
/s/ Sepp Dietrich
The writer of this article, ex SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper, was a former Adjutant of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and at the time of the Battle of the Bulge was a Lt Colonel in command of the 1.SS-Panzer-Regiment, the spearhead for the Leibstandarte, 1.SS-Panzer-Division, Adolf Hitler. Subsequently he was promoted to Colonel and became the youngest Colonel in the German Armed Forces.
Previous to the Battle of the Bulge, Peiper had been one of Himmler’s Adjutants but because of his aggressiveness was ordered to the Eastern Front in 1942 with the Leibstandarte and commanded the 1.SS-Panzer-Battalion of the 1.SS-Panzer-Regiment. There it gained the name of the Blow Torch Battalion because of their practice of using blow torches from the tanks to burn down the villages which they captured. When the 6.Panzer-Army was organized in the fall of 1944 for the purpose of the German counteroffensive, which we refer to as the Battle of the Bulge, Joachim Peiper was selected to command the point of his division. It was members of his regiment which committed the Malmédy Massacre and went on to slaughter approximately 150 American Prisoners of War as well as more than 100 Belgian Civilians in the space of one week.
Peiper, with the CG of the 6.Panzer-Army, Sepp Dietrich, the Chief of Staff, Fritz Kramer, the CG of the 1.SS-Panzer-Corps, Hermann Preiss, and 70 others, were tried for this war crime at Dachau, Germany, in 1946. Peiper received the death penalty and is now awaiting execution of his sentence at the Landsberg War Criminal Prison, Landsberg, Germany, which is the same place in which Hitler wrote Mein Kampf.
The start of the war in the east saw on both sides fully lined up adversaries. The German Army was intoxicated with the success of the necessity to wage a preventive war. In spite that one did not know hardly anything about the enemy, we thought we would be able to force the military decision in about three months time. Our arrogance as also the underestimation of the adversary was typical as well as tremendous. The inner structure, not grown organically, was like an over sized head on legs of putty and could in no way be compared with the quality of the Army of World War One. A body of troops indoctrinated but with inspiration is capable to gain surprising initial successes. However, in the long run it lacks tho necessary hardness and stamina in times of crises.
The divisions of the Waffen-SS were small in numbers and not yet watered. They presented in every respect an elite. On account of the political reputation attached to them, there existed tensions with the Army High Command. One felt our existence as an innovation without tradition and as a political hazard and therefore endeavored to wear us down as quickly as possible by corresponding missions and commitments.
In spite of the unexpected tenacity of the enemy’s resistance, the breach of the Russian Front succeeded in the accustomed style. Thanks to our superior motorization and technology, the main objective was gained and by the known great pocket fights, the withdrawal of the Red Army into depth of space essentially prevented.
The own leadership proved itself as absolute superior. The achievement of air superiority was also here the most important prerequisite. The carrier of the German attack was the tank weapon. The strong tank forces of the adversary were still in the construction stage not yet ready for front line service and broke down with technical faults on the field of battle. The development of AT weapons was still in the infant stage.
The Ukraine received us as liberator and waited for the proclamation of their independence. The shortsighted setup of our civil-administration created the enemy in the back as also the partisan fighting and was in my opinion a decisive error. It is my conception that the backbone of the Soviet Army was broken in the Autumn of 1941. If the German politics and propaganda would have had the same force of impact as the Army, the war could have been brought to an end still in the same year. A good treatment of the subjugated ones would have been the start for mass desertion of the enemy. Instead, the contrary was done. One thus created for the first time an emergency organization, reconciling the national antagonistic trends and oppositions and handed Stalin the slogan for a unifying national goal.
A peace at this time without a doubt could have been within reach and also would have provided us with a time gain of several years and given us protection in the rear for a one front war in the west. The incredibly severe winter of the year 1941-1942 forced the German Army to halt the offensive and was the beginning of the end. As no one believed or contended that a continuous line of defense running from the Polar Sea to the Artic Sea would become necessary, all the preparations, and especially the foundations for the supply were non existent. The capacity of the extremely poor road net did not suffice by any means in order to satisfy the front lines.
The railroad engines froze in and the fight against snow and hungry bandits made the roads insecure.
At the time when in the towns the rear echelon life was gaining ground and constituted the first crystallization points of a moral disintegration, which extended its magnetic field up to the troop headquarters, the front line had to be self sufficient and looked gloomily at the thriving poison flower flourishing in the hinterland. At an average freezing temperature of -30 Celsius, I remained with my company in the foremost ditches without a day of relief. Our winter clothing was almost entirely of Russian origin and the food consisted only of millet.
The year 1942 in spite of the apparent success had absorbed the last offensive strength of the Army. The Luftwaffe, through long hibernation and high standard of living had become a gentleman weapon, which lent no ear to the needs of tho petty infantry soldier but spoke uneasily of bad flying weather. Since our own propaganda forecasts turned out to be incorrect, the Russians had come through the winter amazingly well and nowhere an end could be seen, the first voices of discontent were raised and the seed of disintegration fell on favorable ground.
It is my conviction that the Chief of the General Staff was the driving motive in this case. Held together by a strong caste spirit, he often stood indifferently above the fractions and regarded the development more from a scientific rather than from a national viewpoint.
As they regarded the Fuehrer from the beginning on as a political adventurer, many of them felt now a certain satisfaction without considering that they were sawing the branch on which they themselves were sitting. With the high headed air of an expert, they enjoyed to be right in the long run against an amateur. Hitler once christened the Chief of Staff an order of tho Jesuits in red pants and thought it to be the only lodge of Freemasons not yet dissolved! The National Socialist fuehrungs officer (political guidance officer) was the result of this state of affairs and was earmarked to take his place in the future.
When in the winter 1942 we were thrown into Charkow as a relieving force and tried to chock the retreating Luftwaffe divisions, who were insulted for the first time. In tho middle of the year 1943 was the summer offensive in Belgorod. As the higher command was still riding the high horse and did not want to recognize that the Russians meanwhile had become quite a different adversary, we lost the offensive power in a battle area fortified 60 Km deep and we were forced into the defensive.
From this date on, the initiative had been continuously with the adversary. He know that our line of defense was on account of the immense extension thinned out everywhere and had no reserves in back of it, and that he could attack at random with good chances of success at any given place.
Stalingrad became the moral turning point of the war. Had Paulus (as we all expected it) fought to tho last man, this sacrifice in this critical time would have proved itself to the entire army as an immense moral boost. The memory of the fate of our fathers in Siberia and the cruelty of the enemy leadership had up to then forced the German soldier to extreme performances and did not lot arise the thought of the possibility of capture.
As now a German Field Marshall with his troops fell into the hands of tho Bolsheviks alive and since they also received good treatment judging from the propaganda dropped in great numbers, it was established that the Russian could also be humane. The army soldier thus lost to a great extent the fear of capture and for this reason also the incentive for which he was up to now prepared to tight desperately to the last breath. It is of course superfluous to mention that the Waffen SS did not fall for this siren’s song.
The worst however was that getting-surrounded-complex. The local commander or the commanding officer of a large town felt henceforth the Stalingrad sword of Damocles float over his head. The fear of getting surrounded as well as a consciousness towards the flanks and the rear became a mania with the German Army. Vital places were held only as long as one still hold a safe exit. The retrograde movement itself became heroically tinted and legalized by false reports.
The one who quietly and bravely did his duty caused no comment and in his seclusion remained the fool. The one however, who did a lot of hollering, making an elephant out of every attacking mouse was officially commended and on top of it received quick aid in cases of emergency. Untrue reporting is an innermost disease of any army and must always load to a false estimate of the situation and to wrong conclusions. In tho course of time the command realized that of many front lines reports, 50% should be disregarded. Since however this procedure had no bearing on the actual situation, many a small honest commander was expected to do tasks which were sheer madness and which had to shake the confidence in his superior. At first the orders were followed later on one was satisfied with the telephone report of fictitious combat accounts.
Once, upon order from my Commanding General, I had to attack which had 32 recognized Anti-tank guns, which stood like an island in open ground, clearly visible. I had four Panzer IVs at my disposal from which only one could shoot its gun. I had no other support. After attacking three times, each of us had received about 15 hits. In this phase the Panzer generals had taken part in the initial stage of the war in tho west as subordinate Panzer commanders. They had the delusion that they were still living in that happy period and did not want to recognize the decisive development of the anti-tank defense. As a matter of fact, due to all this, disobedience spread alongside of fictitious reporting. Fictitious reporting and expedient reporting as well as the resulting military disobedience were in my opinion the causes of the inward decay.
The rear echelons demoralized the young reserves passing through and also contributed substantially. The actual state of affairs and the true situation did not penetrate the byzantic wall of the higher headquarters and the decisions of the Füehrer were thus based on wrong suppositions. He grow more and more suspicious and a gap more and more difficult to bridge arose between him and his staff. Turning away from the prejudiced professional soldier, he looked in the political camp for the unrestrained outsider. The immediate dismissal of general after the slightest failure became standard procedure and created there an atmosphere of insecurity which had to become fatal to any officers corps. Only optimists were used and warnings founded on expert advice were silenced as too pessimistic. The subordinate combat group commander however marveled at the idiotic missions and reasoned why he had to attack continuously when he himself was too weak even for a defense. In the Winter of 1943-1944, I experienced the destruction of the Army Group South in the space of Lemberg-Proskunow. This final phase was preceded by a continuous withdrawal over hundreds of kilometers. The German soldier posses the highest qualities in the attack and is less suited for defense and withdrawals. Nevertheless the retrograde movements of the year 1943, proceeded orderly and according to plan up to the crossing of the Dnjepr. Everybody clung to tho idea that (1) the river was a mighty and well defendable obstacle and that (2) we would be received in well prepared positions. As both cases did not prove to be correct, our need and morale were shaken at their foundations and we reached a stage very similar to a route.
In contrast to the Russians who even during the attack continuously fortified his hinterland thus creating rallying positions for possible reverses, the German leadership rejected to anticipate such positions. The reason was the belief that the soldier defending himself and relying on a second line in the back of him, glances to the rear and does not cling to the position entrusted to him with the necessary tenacity. The course of events has not borne out this conception, which without a doubt is correct in many ways. It is a fact however, that troops once finding themselves on the run do not get caught and remain in a well established position unless the rallying position has been readied by new units, willing to defend themselves and who on their part have not been infected yet with the withdrawal-complex.
The lack of security already mentioned among the Commanding Staff caused by the unproven and impulsive dismissal of the higher commanders had necessarily to lessen the eagerness to accept responsibility. Our holding engagements therefore lacked a general plan. Instead of once giving up a strip of terrain 30 Km in depth thus attaining a new hold on a strong sector, while in the meantime rear guards by delaying actions gain the necessary time, one continuously kept in close embrace with the enemy by merely keeping within a respectful distance of 2-3 Km under cover of darkness. This withdrawing stop by step can at best be accomplished quietly and orderly three or four times. Then comes dissolution and route.
He, who is once on the run, runs away from blank ammunition. In my opinion it was a mistake dispatch to the troop reserves hastily collected. They should have been held in the rear and dug in in favorable terrain for the reception of the troops. Even crack units hastening towards the retreating elements are powerless against the ghostly vision of retreat and as a rule will be dragged along like a piece of cork in a tidal wave. Continuously make way, always encircled and menaced in the rear and the flanks, we fought our way back to the west under unspeakable difficulties.
In March 1944, when we had reached the Polish border, the front line soldier had lost his belief and hope for a successful Military solution. Instead, the Russian-Terror-Complex emerged. The moral breakdown of the German Eastern Army did not occur on account of the quality of the adversary – in this we were always superior to him, but on account of psychological aspects. For three years we now fought in this country and it still was to us a book with seven seals.
When I wage war with any other nation, I can form a fairly accurate picture with the aid of special literature about the potentialities of that country.
I know the state of training and the basic principles of leadership and I fight with him – from a military point of view – at the same level! In Russia, every forecast of her capacity proved to be erroneous and nobody knew which kind of measuring standard we should go by. In the autumn of 1941 we knew accurately, that the enemy had but 69 Divisions left. One could count on ones fingers when these would crumble – alas! In the winter already, over 200 divisions had come up again! Were we convinced that one can not become offensive in this abnormally hard winter – he does so in spite of it!
While every expert with us considered a war of movement during the mud and rain period as impossible, the Russian lined up for a great offensive and had startling successes. In other words, our judgment influenced by culture and civilization failed against these natural instincts. And were we to kill as many as we could (we figured an average loss of 1:10 that is 1 German for 10 Russians), new masses from the unknown hinterland would gush forth ceaselessly and the practices of the enemy would be animal-like – impulsive – disregarding the customary rules of the science of war; the wind of the steppes of Asia blew into our faces.
Who is this monster? If I do not comprehend him! – cried our soldiers and the cold sweat broke out of their bodies. He started to retreat because the enemy seemingly had broken through at the right or left, but not because the situation in front of his own sector had become untenable.
Hannibal ante Portas! The Russians are coming! Like a rabbit in front of a snake he sat with glazed eyes in his foxhole staring at the brown flood which rolled forward. Only a pistol hold before him brought him back to his senses again. When the soldier then went home on furlough or convalescence, his fear came off his shoulders at the Reich’s border like an overcoat! He did not even remember any more of what he had been afraid and was the best propagandist before his relatives and friends. The old divisions of the Waffen SS, as fire brigade of the Eastern Front rode from one crisis to another. Together with some good tank divisions of the Army, they have performed amazing deeds. Severity against friend and foe became a necessity for survival and the human life lost its value! The Russian has beaten us with the inexhaustible power of his human reservoir, which lent dynamical offensive strength to a political idea. German’s nerves were exhausted by culture and civilization. The superior weapons which the mind developed were out in the depth of the land. The efficiency of the human society of the cultured occident lost out against the primitive instinctive strength of tho Asiatic onslaught!
Our combat leadership corresponded during the first two years to well known principles. Our inferiority in numbers and the shift to an aggressive defense later on demanded deviations and improvisations.
I have not encountered a well prepared German attack yet, to which did not lay claim to a decisive success. At this point I want to mention that the use of equipment and tho modesty of the resources at hand, bore no relation to that of the West Front. Air support was seldom used. The extent of the break through was dictated by the bringing up of supplies and the effectiveness of the poor road network! An effective pursuit was therefore always strictly limited. As the attack was usually halted with the beginning of darkness, we mostly gave the adversary the opportunity to regroup his units under the protection of the night to organize a new line of resistance. The success of the day was thus given away only too often. The Russian himself concedes that this was his salvation in the first year of the war.
The tremendous stretch out front made all sector commanders wish to organize by all means a continuous line. As for one division a sector of 20-30 kn in width was not an unusual occurrence, it is not difficult to compute how thin these positions were manned and one could not talk of reserves or dispositions in the depth of the main battle fronts.
He who wants to protect everything, protects nothing! This soon became apparent to the fullest extent. By intentionally weakening of forward positions and by ignoring the resulting gaps, necessarily a reserve has to be created and entrenched in depth.
Our infantry companies have always operated with counter attack reserves of 4 to 6 old men who were able to throw back entire companies of the intruding enemy. If our infantry divisions would always have had an anti-tank battalion (divisional assault gun battalions) as a backbone, it would have resulted in an invaluable stability of the front. The Panzer Divisions committed for the defense had but little infantry at their disposal. However, they possessed a strong a mobile fire power. From this the development of an offensive defense resulted.
Continuous harassing of the enemy by active reconnaissance, cunning local enterprises, as also unexpected attacks with limited objective must force the enemy to hold his breath day and night and weaken him. The Panzer remain in readiness gathered in depth at points of gravity, prepared for a solid counter attack. It is wrong to give in to the lament of the infantry and to distribute them along the entire line of defense.
The war, oscillating in great spaces created the Combat Teams and thus it received more and more significance. This is an independently operating unit of company up to brigade size which, due to its special missions and the great distances which are so difficult to bridge from a communications point of view, is generally self sufficient. The composition depends on the missions. The ideal form was the armed group which besides the Panzers as backbone, had at its disposal infantry on armored cars, self propelled Artillery and Engineers.
This is a composition similar to the Panzer Brigade which were organized during the last years. The open plains of the Ukraine were the right hunting ground for these units and they have often accomplished astonishing results far in the rear of the enemy. Decision was here the personality of the commander. The Division commander remained in the background at this kind of battle strategy. Under virtual elimination of major headquarters sitting in the rear, the brunt of the fight was lately born and its course determined by the MG gunner, group leader, assault troop leader and combat team commander.
The German weapons and equipment are assumed to be known. Nevertheless a few points deserve especially to be brought up. The best the infantry had was the MG 42. This unpretentious wonder-weapon free of stoppages is by far the best machine gun known to me. Also outstanding was the 88-MM AA gun, the heavy infantry gun s.J.G. 150-MM and also the heavy smoke screen 120-MM mortar may be thought of in this connection. In general it should be noted that we had too many different partly overdeveloped weapons. A Panzer Division with 150 different kinds of ammunition is in the long run unbearable for the supply system. Since our war industries as well as the economic mobilization were still too much within the infant stages, this had a bearing particularly on the motor vehicles. The multitude of types and the resulting difficulties of obtaining spare parts caused worries which could not be solved, even by the best improvisions.
Our Panzers were superior to all enemy tanks. But here too, the fancy of the German for complicating became apparent and overdeveloping them, which in turn had to have their effect on the output. The steadily improving production required of the servicing crews to become more and more efficient and competent. Since however the crews necessarily had to become worse as time went by, the standard of the technical development during the last two years stood in no proportion to the performance and knowledge of the crews. The loss of a great number of Panzers due to faulty servicing had to be the result. Our demand therefore, was continuously the return to a certain degree of simplicity. The poor raw material and the many substitutes represented the greatest obstacles.
Of the great number of Panzers which I lost, 3 on 5 of them had to be abandoned and blown up. This is the fate of any mechanical failure in the course of a continuous withdrawal. The race between armor and PAK (AT gun) has without a doubt been decided in favor of the latter (if no new steel alloy is being invented). Therefore, it appears to me as senseless to go over a weight of 70 T. More important than heavy armor are high speed and the covering of great distances. In my opinion the development should center on these requirement. The present guns are quite ample with the exception of the optic. An automatic gear connecting telescopic sight and range finder would be required. The Panzer Jaeger III (Tank Destroyer) was our most dependable assault gun. The Panzer Jaeger IV (75-MM gun, length 70) introduced in the last, was good and lived up to all demands. I consider the American M-10 Tank Destroyer as superior. I do reject the Jagd-Panther (AT Panther) and Jagd-Tiger. They did not prove themselves in my opinion.
/s/ Joachim Peiper