ϟϟ-Sturmbannführer der Waffen-SS Peiper

Joachim Peiper
Joachim Peiper
One incident during these hectic and confused days brought the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross to a young officer who was to become one of Leibstandarte SS best known and most highly decorated soldiers: SS-Sturmbannführer Joachim Peiper. 
The battered 320th Infantry Division had been struggling westwards to reach German-held territory before it could be overtaken by the Soviet pursuers. The division, however, was burdened with over 1,500 seriously wounded soldiers and was unable to make much speed. The divisional commander was unwilling to abandon his wounded, and so the division was by-passed by the fast-moving Soviet units and eventually surrounded. The task of leading a relief column behind enemy lines to rescue the infantrymen fell to Peiper´s 3rd Battalion, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 2. Peiper´s Panzers crossed the Donetz and pushed eastwards for over 40km into Soviet held-territory, fending off all enemy attempts to halt it. Once contact was made with the 320th Infantry Division, the medics from Peiper´s relief force toiled through the night to help treat the worst of the wounded. When morning dawned, the Waffen-SS troops formed an armoured shield around the divisional perimeter and escorted the battered Wehrmacht units on their trek westwards towards the Donetz and relative safety. On reaching the river at Udy, Peiper had hoped to cross at a small bridge which he thought was still in German hands. On arriving he discovered the bridge had been attacked and destroyed by the Soviets, who had killed most of the German defenders, as well as many of the wounded. Peiper´s men fell upon the Soviet troops with a fury and a vicious battle ensued. Peiper´s men gave no quarter, and the bridge was retaken. The repaired bridge, however, would not support the unit's heavy-armored half-tracks and assault guns. Peiper ordered his men back behind the Soviet lines to find another exit. Eventually, the relief force reached German-held territory safely. The Soviets alleged that the Germans set fire to two villages during Peiper's attack. SS-Oberstgruppenführer und Panzergeneraloberst der Waffen-SS Josef "Sepp" Dietrich recommended SS-Sturmbannführer Joachim Peiper for the award of the Knight's Cross on March 7 1943, and Hitler approved the award just two days later. 
Peiper commanded his Panzers with great skill and daring. He also provided an example of personal daring which goes far to explain his success as a combat leader: he expected much of his men but demanded more of himself. One of many anecdotes that has survived describes Peiper´s destruction of an onruching Soviet T-34 tank with a rifle grenade at a few meters range. Peiper grinned, observing,
that should suffice for the close-combat badge, boys. On November 20 1943, SS-Obersturmbannführer Georg Schönberger was killed in action, and Peiper took his place as commander of the SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 (Leibstandarte SS); a position he held until the end of the war. He was 28 years old. Peiper personally led the regiment through the winter and was engaged in numerous night assaults against the Red Army. His panzer unit played an essential role in stalling the Soviet offensive in the area of Zhytomyr. In the following days, Peiper´s panzers penetrated thirty kilometers into the Soviet rear, put to flight the field headquarters of four Soviet divisions, and claimed 2,280 Soviet troops killed, a figure that might be contrasted with a total of three prisoners taken during the same period. SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper was to receive the Oakleaves of the Knight's Cross for these exploits. Images: Jochen Peiper receiving the Oak Leaves of the Knight's Cross. Commons: Bundesarchiv.

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