April 26, 2014

Kampfgruppe Peiper extricates the 320th Infanterie-Division

In January 1943 the Soviet steamroller crushed the larger part of ArmyGroup B. The Hungarian Second Army, Italian Eighth Army and part of the German Second Army were wiped out. Armeeabteilung Lanz, a makeshift, corps sized formation, took over the defense of the area around Kharkov (Kharkiv). Southeast of Kharkov 320.Infanterie-Division was deployed along the Krassnaja (Krasna) River. At the end of January the SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Divisions “Leibstandarte” and “Das Reich”, reequipped and refitted, arrived in the Eastern Front and were subordinated to Armeeabteilung Lanz, with the order to hold Kharkov. 

Soviet thrusts, 30 January – 18 February 1943
Soviet thrusts, 30 January – 18 February 1943. 
The withdrawal of the 320th Infanterie-Division is shown in red.

320.Infanterie-Division Struggles to Survive
320th Infanterie-Division
2. Logo of the 
320th Infanterie-Division, 
the “Heart” Division.

320.Infanterie-Division was conducting its fighting withdrawal, under the pressure of the Soviet Sixth Army. General der Gebirgstruppe Hubert Lanz ordered the Division to reach the town of Andrejevka, close to the Donets river. The Division possessed very few vehicles and it was burdened with an increasing number of wounded men. Furthermore the Division was already outflanked by Russian cavalry units and its regiments were dispersed. The Division’s rearguard was constantly engaged with pursuing Russians.

On 7 February a Storch reconnaissance airplane found the divisional commander Generalmajor Georg-Wilhelm Postel. He was flown to the Leibstandarte’s HQ, where he managed to make contact with General Lanz. After that Postel was flown back to his Division.

On 9 February Andrejevka was taken by the Russians. The Division’s forward elements, desperate to reach the German lines, attacked ferociously and scattered the Soviet units occupying Andrejevka. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Leibstandarte” was ordered to assist 320.Infanterie-Division in its withdrawal and evacuate its wounded. Peiper’s armored infantry battalion was chosen for the job.

Kampfgruppe Peiper
SS-Sturmbannführer Jochen  Peiper
3. SS-Sturmbannführer Jochen 
Peiper on 9 March 1943.

Leibstandarte’s SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 2 was composed of three battalions. The third battalion was equipped with armored halftracks and it was commanded by SS-Sturmbannführer Jochen (Joachim) Peiper. There were four companies in the Battalion; the 11th, the 12th, the 13th and the 14th. The infantry squads were riding on Sd.Kfz. 251 armored personnel carriers (SPW). Each of the first three companies had 18 SPWs armed with MG42 machine guns. The 14th kompanie was the battalion’s heavy weapons company. It contained:
  • an antitank platoon with three 50mm, towed, antitank guns
  • an infantry squad with antitank rifles
  • four 75mm, towed, infantry howitzers
  • three SPW with 75mm mounted cannons
  • a combat engineer platoon (pionierzug) with four SPW.
Peiper’s battalion arrived in the vicinity of Kharkov between 2 and 7 February. On 10 February he received the mission to extricate 320 Infanterie-Division. For that operation he was provided with seven StuG III assault guns, a number of self-propelled antiaircraft guns and 60 ambulances for the evacuation of the Division’s wounded.

The Operation
The interior of a rebuild Sd.Kfz. 251
4. The interior of a rebuild Sd.Kfz. 251 
armored personnel carrier (SPW).

Kampfruppe Peiper crossed the forward German lines at 05:15 hours on 12 February 1943 and headed south (northwest of the Donets). The armored column surprised the Russians and took possession of a bridge at Krasna Poliana across the Udy river. During the fight some of the ambulances were destroyed. An SS platoon was left behind to guard the bridge.

At 06:40 hours Kampfruppe Peiper captured the town of Zmiev (Zmiiv), crossed the Donets river and sent reconnaissance patrols to spot the retreating Division, in the direction of Lyman. At 12:30 Generalmajor Postel, with his forward elements, made his appearance. It was quite apparent from the condition of the arriving men the ordeal they had been through. Peiper had to wait a whole day until the rest of the Division made it to the rendezvous point.

In the meantime a Russian ski battalion had established blocking positions around the town of Krassnaja Palyana (Krasna Poliana), close to the Udy river. Kampfgruppe Peiper assaulted the Russians, retook the town and secured the Division’s crossing. At 16:00 hours on 13 February the ambulances with the wounded men of the “Heart” Division were behind the German lines. But the bridge across the Udy was partially destroyed and wasn’t safe for Peiper’s armored vehicles, so he took a detour into enemy held territory. He followed the route: Butowka (Butivka) - Sidki (Zidky) - Artjueschewka (Artiukhivka) - Mirgorod (Myrhorody). Peiper's Battalion managed to avoid contact with the Russians and without being detected reached the German lines. The Battalion was assembled at Merefa, as divisional reserve.

Peiper’s operations
5. Peiper’s advance (blue line). Peiper’s return (red line).

Peiper, for his actions, was awarded the German Cross in Gold.

Sd.Kfz. 251/9 Ausf. D armed with a 7,5 cm KwK 37 L/24 cannon
5. An Sd.Kfz. 251/9 Ausf. D armed with a 7,5 cm KwK 37 L/24 cannon.

Agte, Patrick. Jochen Peiper-Commander Panzerregiment Leibstandarte. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz, 1999.
Lehmann, Rudolf. The Leibstandarte vol. III. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz, 1990.
Nipe, Jr., George M. Last Victory in Russia, The SS-Panzerkorps and Manstein's Kharkov Counteroffensive February-March 1943. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2000.
Ziemke, Earl F. Stalingrad to Berlin - The German Defeat in the East. 1968. Reprint. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army, 2002.

Photos attribution
1. CMH Pub 30-5-1, additional details: autor
2. Marco Kaiser, via Wikimedia Commons
3. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R65485/CC BY-SA 3.0 de, via Wikimedia Commons
4. Norbert Kaiser, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
5. http://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright, operational details: author

6. Huhu.Huhu at de.wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons

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