Monday, May 26

We peer through the haze into Panzerwrecks' third Duel in the Mist

This month Panzerwrecks have produced their third in the popular series of “Duel in the Mist” trilogy – with many not before seen photographs in a large format and typically informative text and maps we thought you needed a review so you could see a little close into the mist...

Duel in the Mist Vol.3
The Leibstandarte during the Ardennes Offensive
Author: Simon Vosters, Timm Haasler and Hans Weber
Language: English text
Format: Hardcover, 8.5" x 11"
Pages: 272
Photos: 110 B+W wartime photos
Maps: several in colour
ISBN: 978-0-9898459-1-5
Price: $54.95/ £36.99 /€43.65

How do you follow up two of the most well respected and popular accounts so far of the battle of the bulge in the Ardennes in 1944/5 - How do you top yourself? 
I would suggest more of the same and even better. Otherwise it’s not worth publishing don’t you think? It is with these high expectations that we picked up the third of the “Duel in the Mist” series – number 3, written by the team of Timm Haasler, Simon Vosters and Hans Weber.
 This book is a landscape format in hardcover (8.5" x 11") with full page format period snaps in black and white. Our recent review of the Panzerwrecks 16 book had some pictures that are actually related to this book. But I think that this book took the cream of the photos that could have gone to another of the Panzerwrecks publications. Like the other special books from this from this publisher the cover is a hard pictorial cover with no dust jacket (thank goodness those things just get torn anyway) my book has been touring around with me for a week or so in my bag and as you can see has held up alright.

At 272 pages it is a little heavy to cart around with you. It is a weighty volume with a lot of text. I did think that there were going to be more pictures and less text but the writing team must have done a bunch of research and interviews to get these many gems from this confusing battleground from 70 or so years ago.
I suppose this book can be seen as a complete stand-alone tome on the battle. It is true though that it is a complimentary volume to the two earlier books – the 2007 volume I book examined the events of the 19th of December 1944, and the actions of Kampfgruppe Peiper in the Stoumont region whilst the second book detailed the 20th and 21st of December  in the Stoumont and La Gleize areas. This - the third volume in the series examines the stories of Kampfgruppen, Peiper, Hansen and Knittel during the Ardennes offensive and tells also of the stories of the soldiers that opposed them on those dark December days.

Each notable battle or encounter sees a large form map with the placement and movement of units of the allied and German forces. These are really helpful to those not familiar with the terrain. Different sized of maps are included through the book – some maps even including various landmarks and utilities such as sawmills and houses. Having these maps with the roads on them is a great help to the massive amount of text. It does help you orientate yourself a little easier.
The other feature outside the story are the pictures of this book. Mostly in a large size of a page to a picture these snaps are of a good quality and are placed in random places throughout the book. Some are captured around the time of the battle but several of these were taken a little after the battle which is fair enough. The events of the 22nd were confusing enough and if you don’t count in a mist that only gave a mile or so visibility I can imagine photographers were thin on the ground over these days. The text included with the captions explains in a helpful way the relevance of the shots to the text.

There are several full page sized pictures of several of the vehicles used by the Germans and the allies in the conflict – featured heavily are vehicles like the  Tiger II, a whole family of Panthers and Panzer Pz.Kpfw.IVs – but also there are shots of the , Pz.IV/70(V), Hummel, Flakpanzer Wirbelwind, Grille Ausf.M, Sd.Kfz.251/1, Sd.Kfz.251/3, Sd.Kfz.251/7, Sd.Kfz.251/9, Sd.Kfz.251/17, Sd.Kfz.251/21, Sd.Kfz.10/5, M4A3 Sherman, M7 HMC, M12 GMC, M4 High Speed Tractor, an M4A1 Mortar Carrier.

This book is divided into twenty three chapters of only a few pages each and these chapters are placed within two main parts of the book. The first part of the book is a “Prequel” of ninety-two pages describes the events that led up to the main part of the book which happened on the 22nd.
To better explain what really is in this book I have made notes along the way as I have read it and ill explain the main points of this book chapter for chapter.  If you don’t want the read you can skip straight to the conclusion – but you would be missing out! I’ll try to keep it brief….

Part I: Prequel
1. Engineers in the way
2. Events at Trois-Ponts, Dec. 17th-18th 1944
3. The bridge at Neufmoulin, Dec. 18th 1944
4. Events at Trois-Ponts, Dec. 19th-21st 1944
5. North of the Amble`ve River, Dec. 21st 1944

In the “Prequel” section of the book we see an overview of the battle and some of the events of the 19th, 20th and 21st of December. Starting off with the dispositions of the engineers of the 1111th Engineer Combat Corps and the defences and support to the front line that would prove to be invaluable in the defence of the bulge in the following days. The book takes you through roadblocks, checkpoints and defences as well as early encounters with the lead elements of the German spearheads from both sides.

Even early in this book we hear some great personal accounts. The Germans intercepting an American jeep and the killing of the driver as well as the perfect execution of a roadblock and destruction of a German column at the bridge of bridge at Neufmoulin. Even early in the piece you can see that the authors just want to tell the facts and to let you judge the material. I like this approach very much as it leaves the parochial B.S. out of it and just gives it to you straight.
Kampfgruppe Hansen’s attack on Trois Points against the 505th Parachute infantry division on the 21st Dec is documented. How the parachutists delayed the enemy assault in the end with the blowing of the bridge over the Salm River and the defence of Parfondruy against Knittel’s group by the 117th infantry.

This introduction is rounded out by a short summary of the events up until now. This sets us up for the battle to be played out and the main part of the book. To make the contents of this second part a little easier to follow I have broken each chapter into a brief description so I don’t just ramble on…

Part II: December 22nd 1944
In Endgame in Stoumont we start by looking at the battle order of the American forces in the Stoumont area as well as the important scene-setter which is the weather outlook for the 22nd. This part includes several pictures of the US forces in the snow and mud of that time.
How to break that thing? - features the early hours of the Americans in Stoumont. It talks of the confusion of the whereabouts of the positions of the Germans and if they were actually in the town and the civilians caught up there. Meanwhile ch8 Taking that place tells of the events after noon in that same town with the Americans taking the place whilst the next chapter “Move on!” tells of the G.I’s advance towards La Gleize and the road block set up to keep the Germans from returning on the eastern edge of the town of Stoumont.

“A castle turned into a hospital” talked less about the hospital in the title but more about the abortive attempt by the Germans to supply their troops with more gasoline. Almost a laughable result I am sure dismayed the Germans and consequences of having fuel in a building that was shelled by the allies.

A very concise map and description of Pieper’s men and machines in is discussed in “The Germans in La Gleize” – this chapter shows you on the map just where the large forces of Germans were to defend against the Americans in this – the last stand by in this village. Several of the German’s vehicles were disabled or unusable due to mechanical issues or fuel shortages and there are several great pictures of the Germans dumped half-tracks that had run out of fuel in the woods near Les Montis. Several Panthers have been captured next to houses with a fair bit of information attached to the pictures throughout the end of this chapter. This is the best and most relevant set of pictures of any in this book.
With a map to accompany the information the G.I’s on the opposite side of the town are discussed in the next chapter “the Americans east of La Gleize”. The maps and text show La Gleize covered by the Americans on almost three sides and in great strength (not to mention with petrol).  Task force McGeorge was poised to strike from Boroumont and Roanne.

The story of a firing squad and capital punishment of the worst kind is discussed in the next chapter “A break in the battle” - which is accompanied by some great pictures of a destroyed Grille in La Gleize.

“A cornered beast” details the surprise German counter-attacks on Borgoumont. From a bunch of excited RT phone chatter about the attacking German tanks by the Americans to a German who relayed the action then ultimately to the break-up of the attack by that combined panzers and infantry. This chapter further illustrates just how much of a beating the large Tiger II tanks could take – and just how superior in resources of fire that the Americans could bring to bear.
After attacking the town with the aid of smoke shells and firing phosphorous into buildings to make fires and extra smoke (although the weather was clearing) “Task Force McGeorge enters La Gleize” tells how the American did just that, and first-hand accounts from the German defenders and American prisoners of war add to the richness of the account.

The events of the defence of the Trois-points area from the Germans is next in “505th PIR defending the Salm Line” (the Salm is the river line the GI’s were defending). A fruitless anti-tank patrol with gammon grenades and likewise activity from the Germans is described before the next chapter “The bridge incident” describes a mishap of a Jagdpanzer IV that inadvertently broke a bridge under their own weight at Petit Spai. Details of the trapped infantrymen and the attempts to bravely restore the spans of the bridge are a good read and the pictures show just how the aftermath looked.

Kampfgruppe Knittel on the outskirts of Stavelot and their defence of that town is discussed in “Squeezing Kampfgruppe Knittel”. This passage features several stories of the attack by the Americans and the well dug in Germans who’s stories seems to overlap (a great tip to the researcher’s hard work). Disconcerting stories of first-hand witnesses to a civilian massacre by the Germans also make for disconcerting reading but again they are told in a very neutral manner to the credit of the authors.
“ Surprise! Kampfgruppe Hansen strikes back” details a very unusual attack by the Germans on waiting GI’s that tried to breakthrough to the embattled Germans in La Gleize, while “Confusion west of Stavelot” tells of the attempted rescue of some comrades out of a basement of a house by a lone Tiger (133) of which we saw in an earlier picture disabled at Petit Spai bridge. The story is told by both sides and it is all the more interesting for the two accounts. Again a good book has been made into a great one through research and first hand interviews.

It is the evening of the 22nd before the book talks about the “Counterattack at Coo” that saw tanks and a handful of infantrymen try to re-take the aid station at Coo and the carnage that this action saw. Lasty “At the end of the day” is a wrap up of this dramatic day and all I have explained here. This is why I took the time to show you just how much is captured here in this book and the lengths the writers have gone to bring you as much of it that still exists in people’s minds and in print.

At the very end of the book the authors provide a full overview of each of the tanks and their crews of SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 and s.SS-Pz. Abt.501 during the Offensive. What happened to them and whether they indeed saw battle at all – several that I noted in this section broke down on their way to battle or ran out of fuel going from one battle to another or because of something easily fixed with the right resources. A surprising amount of broken down and empty vehicles that make you better understand why the capture of fuel dumps was so important to the Germans and why they desperately tried abortive supply drops.
This is a massive undertaking. To get all these accounts first-hand and from reports of the time is an outstanding achievement and I am sure this is why there is some time between volumes. The more you read the more engorged into the details and the more you understand the terrain and the situations of both the protagonists. I like the way the facts are given to you straight and the way the book is presented, the maps and pictures do add a lot to this title as well.

I have heard of and indeed I am assuming there is going to be fourth book in this series. I hope there will be if it is anything like this and it’s two siblings.

Research, pictures and writing at it’s best in this genre. If you are at all interested in this battle and fancy a bit of a read this is a great book.

Adam Norenberg

This book is now available to order from the Panzerwrecks site.  Thanks to them for sending us this book to finish off our trilogy.  Here's hoping its one more for the road.