The monthly book list was circulated. One book appealed, if I'd interpreted the title correctly. I hadn't. "But I've got this." I am familiar with the works of Charles Whiting, aka Leo Kessler. That wasn't a good thing.
- Charles Whiting
Those of us of a certain generation will remember with fondness the nonsense of the war porn, training manuals, whatever preferred description best fits, of Sven Hassel and "his" exploits in a penal Panzer regiment. And that Kessler's tales of SS Assault Regiment Wotan were a pale imitation.
In the 90s I read an inordinate number of books. If I found a vein of literature in my local library, it seemed they'd find more of them. Military History was one such vein. Looking through Whiting's extensive bibliography, it would seem (I may be wrong) that one book I found was "Target Eisenhower". I knew that Kessler and Whiting were one and the same. The library had filed this book under Military History. What could I lose? Let's just say it was self evident that Whiting and Kessler were indeed one and the same, right down to the slang used by both. Disappointed doesn't begin to describe my reception of this " history book".
And then I was offered SS Peiper to review. I knew what I was expecting and said so. I wasn't surprised. It is a history of Jochen Peiper, infamous commander of the eponymous battle group at the front of the Ardennes Offensive.
The book comprises fives main parts:
Part 1 left me in no doubt that this was a work of Charles Whiting/ Leo Kessler. Whilst searching online for that book name above, I found, in the search results for Whiting's own website, the following:
- Peiper's early war.
- Events in the Ardennes, December 1945
- His detention
- The trial
- His life after his release, and his death
Novels as Leo Kessler ... Leo Kessler the creator of the immortal Sergeant Schulze famed throughout the SS NCO Corps for his talented musical farts ...
This was possibly the only Whiting charicaturisation I didn't find in Part 1. The disappointment meter was threatening to overload. But I got past it. There was description of events involving SS-Leibstandarte and Peiper in Russia (they went four times and were reduced to a skeleton each time), Italy and Normandy. The narrative hinted at atrocities.
Part 2, the involvement of Kampfgrüppe Peiper in Wacht am Rhein started in much the same vein. It gave a half decent narrative of events at the Baugnez crossroads near Malmedy, Stavelot and the battle group's furthest penetration up the Ambleve valley. But the narrative was still by and large in the style of Kessler, unlike any history book I have ever read.
Throughout the book there are recorded conversations between key players, for example Sepp Dietrich telling Rommel that if Rommel deposes Hitler, Dietrich will back him up. But in the entire book, the only references put forward by Whiting are to his own other works (there is one reference to a letter held by the author). There is nothing to give you a clue where to find third party reading, references, etc. It frankly annoyed me intensely.
Then we get to his incarceration and interrogation, his trial and imprisonment. This was rather more compulsive reading and this and the rest of the book were read in an afternoon.
Whiting's style is simply to ask questions and leave them there without trying too hard to find answers to those questions. I feared, and wasn't entirely disabused of the fear, that Whiting was (he's been dead some time. The book was written in the mid-80s) a Nazi lover (but not, I hasten to stress, an apologist). His coverage of Peiper's interrogations, trial and incarceration serve to cast an inordinate degree of doubt and prejudice on his interrogation and trial by a United States determined to get revenge for the atrocities in the Ardennes.
It doesn't take much reading to learn that Peiper's life might as well have ended up the Ambleve valley. More than a decade incarcerated and forever tainted by the allegations of atrocities (atrocities certainly occurred, but whether Peiper was implicit or complicit in the events or any order given, the question is as open today as it was 70 years ago), the last 40 years of his life were not those of a man at ease.
In summary then. If you are looking for a history book in the traditional sense, this book will disappoint. It's more a narrative in the style of Hassel's Legion of the Damned.
However, the book was not an unpleasant read, it did shed light on what happened to Kampfgrüppe Peiper and there is no doubt that Whiting did put in effort and research. Don't expect high brow, but it was a good enough read.