The Battle of The Bulge
Divisional commander Wilhelm Mohnke ordered Knittel to return to the Leibstandarte. On 13 December 1944 he arrived at the divisional headquarters near Euskirchen where he asked Mohnke to grant Emil Wawrzinek the command of the 1st SS reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH. Wawrzinek had led the battalion since its return from France and had rebuilt it during the past months. But the next day Mohnke insisted that Knittel had to lead the reinforced battalion that would become Schnelle Gruppe (fast group) Knittel.
That same day, 14 December, Knittel was briefed about the upcoming Operation Wacht am Rhein, the German attempt to break through the American lines and cut the allied forces in two. With the Leibstandarte as spearhead of the 6th Panzer Army of Sepp Dietrich Schnelle Gruppe Knittel was to follow the battlegroups of Joachim Peiper and Max Hansen, then use its speed to capture a bridge across the Meuse River south of Liège enabling the Leibstandarte to move toward Antwerp. On 15 December Knittel was further briefed at the headquarters of Hermann Prieß, the commanding officer of the 1st SS-Panzerkorps. During this briefing Otto Skorzeny was introduced and the details of Operation Greif were revealed. After this meeting Knittel drove to the command post of his battalion in Glaadt to pass the orders and specifics on to his company commanders.
The offensive started the next day, 16 December 1944. Initially Knittel advanced quickly, following in the wake of Peiper and Hansen without enemy contact, marching over Holzheim, Hosingen, Honsfeld and Born. On 17 December a scouting party of Schnelle Gruppe Knittel murdered eleven African-American soldiers of the 333rd Artillery Battalion in Wéreth.
On 18 December it became clear that Peiper made the best progress and Mohnke ordered Knittel to follow that battlegroup. After a short meeting with Hansen in Recht, Knittel moved to Stavelot. After leaving instructions for his company commanders he crossed the Amblève River bridge in Stavelot at noon to contact Peiper in La Gleize. Elements of his battlegroup followed during the afternoon and early evening but the American 30th Infantry Division managed to recapture the northern part of the town, blocking the advance route of the rest of Schnelle Gruppe Knittel and the battlegroup of Rudolf Sandig. The next day, 19 December, Mohnke ordered Knittel and the elements of his fast group that did manage to reach La Gleize back to Stavelot to recapture the town and open the advance route which was also essential in supplying battlegroup Peiper with fuel and ammunition. Knittel set up his command post in the Antoine Farm west of Stavelot. The counterattack he deployed failed but that day members of his battalion murdered civilians in Parfondruy, Renardmont and Stavelot. That evening the Americans demolished the bridge in Stavelot.
Increased pressure from American forces stalled the advance of the Leibstandarte and continued attempts from Knittel and Sandig to recapture Stavelot failed while Peiper had come to a halt in La Gleize. The elements of Schnelle Gruppe Knittel on the western bank of the Amblève River were trapped between Stavelot, Coo and Trois-Ponts. On 20 December Taskforce Lovelady from 3rd Armored Division attacked Knittels positions from the direction of Trois-Ponts but was halted by a King Tiger tank and some anti-tank guns positioned near Petit-Spai. That evening elements from the 82nd Airborne Division moved in on the positions near Petit-Spai and cut off the road to Wanne. On 21 December elements of the 3rd Armored Division pushed Schnelle Gruppe Knittel out of its positions in Ster but elements of Kampfgruppe Hansen had reached Petit-Spai during the night and their counterattack pushed the 82nd Airborne Division back to Trois-Ponts. On 22 December a major attack from the 30th Infantry Division threw Knittels men out of their positions at the western edge of Stavelot.
It had become clear that the Meuse River could not be reached and Peiper decided on 23 December to abandon his vehicles and march through the woods to escape capture. He left La Gleize with the remaining men. 36 hours later he reached the German lines at Petit-Spai and marched to Wanne. In the early morning of 25 December Knittel cleared his positions on the western bank of the Amblève River and withdrew his men to Wanne. There the Leibstandarte regrouped before moving to the Bastogne area. The Ardennes Offensive ended for Knittel when airplanes from the American 9th Tactical Airforce bombed his command post near Vielsalm on 31 December 1944. He was hospitalized in Germany with a serious concussion.
Read more about this topic: Gustav Knittel
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