Obedient Unto Death: A Panzer-Grenadier of the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler Reports, by Werner Kindler, Frontline Books, Barnsley, U.K., 2014, $32.95
Aside from being an unrepentant Nazi and a “gong hunter” (or glory seeker, as explained in Charles Messenger’s astute foreword), author Werner Kindler is severely lacking in literary ability. He repeatedly lists sets of facts and figures—enemy tanks destroyed, prisoners captured and the like—without either descriptive content or a recognizable point of view, and one wonders if his lack of imagination had anything to do with his painstakingly slow promotion (three times in four years of sustained combat).
Fortunately, either Kindler or his translator—Geoffrey Brooks—has augmented these skeletal reports with extracts from diaries and interviews of other Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) veterans and war correspondents, as well as from official records. The result is a rigorous and fascinating account of World War II as fought at battalion level, focused on the 3rd Battalion, 2nd SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment LSSAH, in which Kindler served from May 1941 to May 1945.
Until the loss of his arm in August 1944, Obersturmführer Erhard Gührs provides the main narrative voice, with Joachim Peiper and, to a lesser extent, Georg Preuss emerging as the protagonists of his story. Gührs’ diary offers striking insight into the war from the German perspective, particularly with regard to operations in the Soviet Union, where the LSSAH was deployed successively from June 1941 to July 1942, January to July 1943, and November 1943 to April 1944. Kindler charts the unit’s heavy losses of men and materiel, which began in the east in 1943 and continued in the west, courtesy of Allied air supremacy. By the summer of 1944 the LSSAH armored columns were entirely at the mercy of fog, and the men in them knew that all was lost, even if they were too obedient to admit it. The felonious loyalty of the LSSAH adds a new dimension to Hitler’s iniquity: He was as quick to sacrifice his bodyguard as he was his enemies when it came to delaying his own Götterdämmerung. For the most part this is a gripping—sometimes harrowing—read.