Tuesday 17 December 2019

A Brief Note About Jochen Peiper

Jochen Peiper, the Waffen-SS officer chosen to spearhead the German incursion in the Ardennes. 

It was quite a serious gaffe for the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps to post a photo of Jochen Peiper, the Waffen-SS tank commander whose troops carried out the Malmedy Massacre which involved the slaughter of American troops during the “Battle of the Bulge” in 1944. And it was almost criminally irresponsible for the U.S. Department of Defence to share the post.

It reminds me of the gaffe made by ex-Fox News presenter Bill O’Reilly who claimed that the Malmedy Massacre was perpetrated by American soldiers -not once, but twice! On the second occasion, his back-to-front facts were spoken to none other than Wesley Clarke, a retired 4-star general who was first in his class at West Point.

While Peiper, like his contemporary Max Wunsche came to be considered as something of a dashing Nazi poster boy, it is worth noting that the intelligence which he displayed as a battle commander has come to warrant the serious attention of scholars in major military colleges. For instance, some years ago, I came across a 2004 thesis written by a Dutch army major entitled “Beginning of the End: The Leadership of SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Jochen Peiper” at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth.

While members of the Waffen-SS were universally acknowledged as being the most tenacious of German troops in battle due to the high-level of indoctrination with Nazi values, fanaticism and valour often exceeded the level of professional skill and competence instilled into those who trained at the staff colleges of the Wehrmacht. Peiper’s leadership skills encompassed more than charisma and loyalty to his men, and this is why he was chosen to lead the German spearhead unit, the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler during the Battle of the Bulge.

Peiper was condemned to death by an Allied military tribunal for war crimes. But this was later commuted to life imprisonment. A number of death sentences such as that handed down to him were not carried out because of the backdrop of the descent into a Cold War between the American-led Western alliance and the Soviet-led alliance. Executing former German soldiers -even those who belonged to the SS which had been declared a criminal organisation- was considered to be not in the best interests of the nascent alliance which had West Germany in its camp.

Peiper was later released and eventually took up residence in France where he was murdered, it is believed, by communist militants.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde has an interest in military history.

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