Gustav Knittel

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Gustav Knittel
Birth date 27 November 1914(1914-11-27)
Place of birth Neu-Ulm, Bavaria
Death date 30 June 1976(1976-06-30) (aged 61)
Place of death Ulm hospital
Allegiance  National Socialist Germany
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.png SS
Flag Schutzstaffel.png Waffen-SS
Years of service 1933–1945
Rank SS-Sturmbannführer
Unit 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
Commands held 1st SS Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Iron Cross 1st Class
Iron Cross 2nd Class
German Cross in Gold
Winter War Medal 1941/42
Infantry Assault Badge
Close Combat Clasp in Gold
Wound Badge in Silver
Sudetenland Medal
SS Honour Ring

Gustav Knittel (b. 27 November 1914 in Neu-Ulm, Bavaria; d. 30 June 1976 in Ulm, Baden-Württemberg) was a German officer of the SS and Waffen-SS, at last SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in World War II.


Gustav Knittel an der Kriegsfront.jpg

Early life

Gustav Knittel, SS-Tarn-Feldbluse.jpg

Gustav Knittel was born in Neu-Ulm, in Bavaria, on 27 November 1914. He had a fraternal twin brother Bernhard and two sisters. His parents Bernhard senior and Theresia (née Pfinder) ran a bakery in Neu-Ulm, Schützenstraße 52. Knittel attended the Volksschule and Realschule in Ulm and the Oberrealschule in Göppingen.[1]

Early career

Military vehicle"Schwimwagen" (Volkswagen Typ 166 Schwimmwagen) and Panther tanks of the "LSSAH"; Driving: Gustav Knittel, November 1943.
The Knight´s Cross award ceremony (Ritterkreuzverleihungszeremonie) in June 1944 in Flanders was led by SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Teddy Wisch, on the same day SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Guhl (standing beside him) and SS-Untersturmführer d. R. Hans Dauser also received this high award.
Schnelle Gruppe "Knittel" near Malmedy as support for Joachim Peiper

Knittel joined the Allgemeine SS on 15 April 1933. He believed this to be a suitable preparation for a professional military career while he was still in school. As this was a formality for new SS members he became a member of the National socialist Party on 1 May 1933.[1] He was assigned to the 79. SS-Standarte in Ulm[2] and with this unit he took part in the 1933 Nuremberg Rally.

Following the passing of his Abitur in March 1934 Knittel applied for a position in the Reichswehr but he was rejected. He then decided to pursue a career in what became the Waffen-SS and was transferred to the SS-Standarte Deutschland of the SS-Verfügungstruppe in Ellwangen in October 1934.[1] He graduated from the SS-Junkerschule Bad Tölz in 1938. He returned to SS-Regiment Deutschland and with this unit Knittel took part in the occupation of the Sudetenland after the Munich Agreement. He served with various SS units before becoming adjutant of SS Reserve Battalion Ellwangen in August 1939.[2]

Career overview (WWII)

  • Adjutant SS-Kradschützen-Reserve Battalion "Ellwangen": 26. August 1939 - May 1940
    • Adjutant des SS-Kradschützen-Ersatz-Bataillons „Ellwangen“: 26. August 1939 bis Mai 1940
  • Platoon leader 15 (military motorcyclist) Company/LAH, 15. May. - 19. Aug. 1940 (Western Campaign 1940)
    • Zugführer in der 15.(Kradschützen-)Kompanie/LAH: 15. Mai bis 19. August 1940 (Westfeldzug 1940)
      • 19 June 1940 wounded in St. Pourçain (left thigh)
  • Commander 4th (heavy) Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH, 19. Aug.1940 - Mar.1942 (Operation Barbarossa)
    • Chef der 4. (schweren) Kompanie/Aufklärungs-Abteilung „LAH“: 19. August 1940 bis Marz 1942 (Rußlandfeldzug)
      • 10 July 1941 wounded at the Rollbahn Nord (right arm and shoulder)
      • 15 February 1943 wounded near vor Bereka (hip)
  • Commander 3rd (light Schützenpanzerwagen) Company 1st Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH, Mar. 1942 - Apr. 1943
    • Chef der 3.(leichte SPW-)Kompanie/Aufklärungs-Abteilung „LAH“: März 1942 bis 22. April 1943
  • Commander 1st SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH, 22. Apr.1943 - Aug.1944 (invasion front)
    • Kommandeur der SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1 „LSSAH“ (SS-Pz.AA 1 „LSSAH“): 22. April 1943 bis August 1944 (Invasionsfront)
      • 11 July 1943 wounded near Teterewino (left arm)
  • Commander SS Field Reserve Battalion LSSAH, Sep. 1944 - 12. Dec.1944
    • Kommandeur des SS-Feld-Ersatz-Bataillon „LSSAH“ (SS-Fld.Ers.Btln. „LSSAH“): bis 12. Dezember 1944
  • Commander 1st SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st SS Panzer Division LSSAH, 14. Dec. 1944 - 31. Dec. 1944
    • Kommandeur der SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1/1. SS-Panzer-Division „LSSAH“ (SS-Pz.AA 1 „LSSAH“): 12. Dezember 1944 bis 31. Dezember 1944
      • 31 December 1944 wounded very severly near bei Wanne during the Battle of the Bulge (traumatic brain injury)

Wartime career

Shortly before the German invasion of France and the Low Countries Knittel was transferred to the 15th (motorcycle) company of the Leibstandarte.[2] He was to replace Max Wünsche as a platoon commander (the other platoon commanders being Hugo Kraas and Hermann Weiser) but the transfer was postponed until after the capitulation of The Netherlands. Knittel took part in the Battle of France saw action at Wormhout and Bollezeele and was awarded the Iron cross 2nd class before he was wounded while leading the attack on Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule on 19 June 1940[3] and transported to a German field hospital in Troyes. The campaign in France also earned him the Infantry Assault Badge and the Wound Badge in black. When the commander of the 15th (motorcycle) company, Kurt Meyer, raised the Aufklärungsabteilung LSSAH (Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH) in Metz in late 1940 he assigned Knittel as commander of the 4th (heavy) company.[4] Knittel recovered from his leg wound in the SS hospital in Hohenlychen and returned to the Leibstandarte in November 1940.

After taking part with the Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH in the German attack on Yugoslavia and the battle for Greece he next participated in Operation Barbarossa: the German invasion of the Soviet Union. He led his company during the drive of the Leibstandarte on Zhytomyr but was wounded during the fighting for the heights north of Marchlewsk on 11 July 1941. This time Knittel had sustained shrapnel wounds and he was shot through the right armpit.[5] He recovered in Hohenlychen hospital again and he was then posed to the SS Training camp Dachau. He was awarded the Iron Cross 1st class and returned to his company in November.

Knittel distinquised himself on 19 November 1941 during the attack on Sultan-Sali during the battle for Rostov and later between 27 November and 1 December when he led an ad hoc Kampfgruppe (battlegroup) to defend the German retreat on Taganrog against the Red Army.[6]

In March 1942 he was appointed as the company commander of the 3rd (light half-track) company in the Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH.[1] After formation of this unit at the Sennelager training grounds in Germany and further training in Normandy, Knittel led this company during the battle for Kharkov and distinguished himself between 2 and 4 February 1943. Having received orders to lead an ad hoc battlegroup formed around his company and move behind enemy lines to cover the retreat of the 298. Infanterie-Division, he made contact with this battered division in Shevchenkove, was cut off by the advancing Red Army but managed to fight his way back to the German lines with his battlegroup and a group of rescued soldiers.[3][6][7] He further distinguished himself when the 1st SS reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH was encircled in Alexejewka and Knittel led one of the counterattacks against the Red Army on 13 February.[3][6] The following day the battalion was saved from destruction because Max Wünsche managed to reach Alexejewka coming from Yefremivka with his tank regiment.[7] On 15 February Meyer and Wünsche wanted to reach the lines of Fritz Witt and Knittel with his company was send to Bereka to reconnoitre the planned route.[7] He found Bereka occupied by the Red Army and he was wounded in the following attack.[5] The next day the combined battlegroup of Meyer and Wünsche managed to reach Yefremivka.[3][7] Knittel was hospitalized with a leg wound but returned to his company for the successful counterattack on Kharkov.

In April 1943 Meyer left the Reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH and Knittel succeeded him as battalion commander.[1][3] He was wounded on 11 July during the Battle of Kursk but stayed with his troops.[5] Knittel led his battalion in Italy and during the 1943-1944 winter battles in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, further distinguishing himself at Turbovka and at Divin, where he personally led his men around the defensive positions of the Red Army and took the town from the east by surprise.[6] He was awarded the German Cross in Gold on 23 January 1944.[1]

He continued to lead the remains of his battered battalion during the battles in February and March, earning the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for securing the Bowenez Pocket between Ternopil and Proskurov on 13 March and his defence of Hill 300 south of Andrejewka between 30 March and 1 April 1944. To defend Hill 300 Knittel led the men of the 68. Infanterie-Division back into their defensive positions after they had been pushed out by the attacking Red Army. He then managed to fend off four more attacks from the Red Army that day and one more on 1 April. This enabled the German Army to safely cross the Zbruch River and retreat to Lemberg.[8] The decimated Leibstandarte was then transferred to Belgium.[9] Knittel set up his headquarters in Turnhout where he was awarded the Knight's Cross on 4 June 1944.

The Leibstandarte was shipped to Normandy a week after D-Day and Knittel led his battalion during the German attempts to counter the allied invasion.[9] It was during the invasion in Normandy that he realized that Germany would lose the war, especially after he witnessed the devastating power of the allied fighter-bombers and artillery during Operation Lüttich and in the Falaise Pocket. After the retreat from France Knittel left for a short holiday in Neu-Ulm. He was awarded the Close Combat Clasp in gold on 13 October 1944 and he tried hard to obtain a position behind the front which he found as commander of the Field Replacement Battalion LSSAH in Lübbecke.

The Battle of the Bulge

Main article: Battle of the Bulge

Wilhelm Mohnke ordered Knittel to return to the Leibstandarte. On 13 December 1944 he arrived at the divisional headquarters near Euskirchen where he asked Mohnke to grant Emil Wawrzinek the command of the 1st SS reconnaissance Battalion LSSAH.[10] Wawrzinek had led the battalion since its return from France and had rebuilt it during the past months. But the next day Mohnke insisted that Knittel had to lead the reinforced battalion that would become Schnelle Gruppe (fast group) Knittel.[10]

That same day, 14 December, Knittel was briefed about the upcoming Operation Wacht am Rhein, the German attempt to break through the American lines and cut the allied forces in two. With the Leibstandarte as spearhead of the 6th Panzer Army of Sepp Dietrich Schnelle Gruppe Knittel was to follow the battlegroups of Joachim Peiper and Max Hansen, then use its speed to capture a bridge across the Meuse River south of Liège enabling the Leibstandarte to move toward Antwerp. On 15 December Knittel was further briefed at the headquarters of Hermann Prieß, the commanding officer of the 1st SS-Panzerkorps.[10][11] During this briefing Otto Skorzeny was introduced and the details of Operation Greif were revealed.[10] After this meeting Knittel drove to the command post of his battalion in Glaadt to pass the orders and specifics on to his company commanders.[10]

The offensive started the next day, 16 December 1944. Initially Knittel advanced quickly, following in the wake of Peiper and Hansen without enemy contact, marching over Holzheim, Hosingen, Honsfeld and Born.[11] On 17 December a scouting party of Schnelle Gruppe Knittel allegedly shot eleven African-American soldiers of the 333rd Artillery Battalion in Wéreth.

On 18 December it became clear that Peiper made the best progress and Mohnke ordered Knittel to follow that battlegroup.[11] After a short meeting with Hansen in Recht, Knittel moved to Stavelot. After leaving instructions for his company commanders he crossed the Amblève River bridge in Stavelot at noon to contact Peiper in La Gleize. Elements of his battlegroup followed during the afternoon and early evening but the American 30th Infantry Division managed to recapture the northern part of the town, blocking the advance route of the rest of Schnelle Gruppe Knittel and the battlegroup of Rudolf Sandig.[11] The next day, 19 December, Mohnke ordered Knittel and the elements of his fast group that did manage to reach La Gleize back to Stavelot to recapture the town and open the advance route which was also essential in supplying battlegroup Peiper with fuel and ammunition.[11] Knittel set up his command post in the Antoine Farm west of Stavelot. The counterattack he deployed failed but that day members of his battalion allegedly murdered civilians in Parfondruy, Renardmont and Stavelot.[12] That evening the Americans demolished the bridge in Stavelot.[11]

Increased pressure from American forces stalled the advance of the Leibstandarte and continued attempts from Knittel and Sandig to recapture Stavelot failed while Peiper had come to a halt in La Gleize.[11] The elements of Schnelle Gruppe Knittel on the western bank of the Amblève River were trapped between Stavelot, Coo and Trois-Ponts. On 20 December Taskforce Lovelady from 3rd Armored Division attacked Knittels positions from the direction of Trois-Ponts but was halted by a King Tiger tank and some anti-tank guns positioned near Petit-Spai.[11] That evening elements from the 82nd Airborne Division moved in on the positions near Petit-Spai and cut off the road to Wanne. On 21 December elements of the 3rd Armored Division pushed Schnelle Gruppe Knittel out of its positions in Ster but elements of Kampfgruppe Hansen had reached Petit-Spai during the night and their counterattack pushed the 82nd Airborne Division back to Trois-Ponts.[11] On 22 December a major attack from the 30th Infantry Division threw Knittels men out of their positions at the western edge of Stavelot.[11]

It had become clear that the Meuse River could not be reached and Peiper decided on 23 December to abandon his vehicles and march through the woods to escape capture. He left La Gleize with the remaining men. 36 hours later he reached the German lines at Petit-Spai and marched to Wanne.[11] In the early morning of 25 December Knittel cleared his positions on the western bank of the Amblève River and withdrew his men to Wanne.[11] There the Leibstandarte regrouped before moving to the Bastogne area. The Ardennes Offensive ended for Knittel when airplanes from the American 9th Tactical Airforce bombed his command post near Vielsalm on 31 December 1944. He was hospitalized in Germany with a serious concussion.

Trial and imprisonment

In May 1945 Knittel returned to his family in Neu-Ulm but soon decided to hide on a farm near Stuttgart. He returned to his hometown later that year but when he met with his wife on 5 January 1946 he was captured by Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) agents Michel Thomas (born Moniek Kroskof – a Polish Jew who is said to have been a member of the so-called French Resistance[13]), and Theodore Kraus. Knittel was imprisoned in the CIC prison in Ulm and interrogated by Thomas.[14] Knittel later claimed that he was physically abused by his guards[15] but Thomas denied this accusation.[14]

In March Knittel was transferred to Schwäbisch Hall where Peiper and the other suspects of the Malmedy Massacre were detained. Knittel and his Schnelle Gruppe had not taken part in the Malmedy Massacre since they had used a more southerly route[11] but he was soon questioned about war crimes in the Stavelot area. Knittel confessed that he ordered the murder of American prisoners of war near Petit-Spai.[16] Like other defendants he complained after his trial that the interrogations included psychological torture. Knittel claimed to have been threatened with being handed over to the Belgians[17] and that his interrogators suggested that signing a confession or not was the choice between fair American justice and Belgian revenge.[18] Knittel also hoped that a false confession would steer the attention of his interrogators away from the civilians the men under his command murdered in Stavelot, Parfondruy and Renardmont and that he could then show during his trial that the murders he confessed to never happened. He intended to use the war diaries of the American units which had opposed his Schnelle Gruppe during the Battle of the Bulge to prove that no Americans were murdered at the date and location he gave in his confession.[19] But during the Malmedy massacre trial his defence lawyers did not get permission to use these war diaries and following his self-incriminating confession he was sentenced to life imprisonment on 16 July 1946.

Knittel and his lawyers immediately filed a request with the War Crimes Board of Review to have his case reopened and in March 1948 the reviewing authority reduced his sentence to 15 years imprisonment. In May 1948 the War Crimes Review Board Nr. 4 rejected the claim that irregularities had occurred during the trial against Knittel but following the Simpson Report and the findings of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services his sentence was further reduced to 12 years imprisonment.

Life after the war

Knittel was released from Landsberg Prison on 7 December 1953 following a Christmas Amnesty. Knittel worked as a car salesman for Opel in Ulm until health problems including several cardiac arrests forced him to retire in 1970.


SS-Sturmbannführer der Waffen-SS a. D. Gustav Knittel died on 30 June 1976 in a Ulm hospital.


Gustav was the son of Bernhard Knittel (1880–1953) and his wife Kreszenzia, née Baur (1885–1972). His twin brother Bernhard fell [[[Killed in action|]]) on 16 January 1945 as Feldwebel in the Pionier-Kompanie 134 of the army in Kreis Labiau in East Prussia. He also had two sisters, Hedwig (b. 27 March 1913) and Martha (b. 27 October 1916). The family was catholic.


On 6 May 1944 SS-Sturmbannführer Knittel married his long love and French fiancée Raymonde Gauthier (b. 13 March 1923 in Maison-Rouge, Seine-et-Marne) in a SS ceremony. Their son Bruno was born on 28 May 1945 in Neu-Ulm. Shortly after his arrest in Ulm, Raymonde, a deeply believing catholic, visited her husband in jail and asked the chaplain to marry them in a catholic ceremony, which he did. After he was sentenced to life, thinking, he would never again be free, Gustav Knittel asked his wife to divorce him and go on with life. On 28 August 1946 they were officially divorced.


SS-Sturmbannführer Gustav Knittel, Ritterkreuzträger mit der Nahkampfspange in Gold II.jpg

Awards and decorations

See also

Further reading

  • Berger, Florian. Ritterkreuzträger mit Nahkampfspange in Gold. Selbstverlag Florian Berger, 2004. ISBN 3-9501307-3-X.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas, 2000. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 SS Personalakten - Record Group 242, Publication A3343, SSO, Roll 185 (NARA)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 SS RuSHA Akten - Record Group 242, Publication A3343, Series RS, Roll C5567 (NARA)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers: The Story Of Waffen SS General Kurt 'Panzer' Meyer (2005) Stackpole Military History ISBN 0-8117-3197-9
  4. Kriegstagebuch LAH RS/1215 (Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Verlustmeldungen der Aufklärungsabteilung LAH, Microfilm M861 (Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Vorschlag zum Deutschen Kreuz in Gold - Moore, John P. Führerliste der Waffen-SS (2003). J.P. Moore Publishing
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Lehmann, Rudolf and Tiemann, Ralf. The Leibstandarte vol. III, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-921991-05-3
  8. Vorschlag zum Ritterkreuz - Moore, John P. Führerliste der Waffen-SS (2003). J.P. Moore Publishing
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lehmann, Rudolf and Tiemann, Ralf. The Leibstandarte vol. IV/1, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-921991-16-9
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Aussagen Gustav Knittels im Malmedy-Prozeß, Microfilm P26-A (NARA)
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 11.12 Pallud, Jean-Paul. Battle of the Bulge: Then and Now. After the Battle Magazine; 2nd edition (June 1986). ISBN 0-900913-40-1
  12. Kartheuser, Bruno. Dokumentation Kriegsverbrechen Stavelot Dezember 1944 – Documentation Crimes de guerre Stavelot, décembre 1944 (1994). Krautgarten, St. Vith.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Robbins, Christopher. Test of Courage: The Michel Thomas Story (2000). New York Free Press/Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-0263-3 // Republished as Courage Beyond Words (2007). New York McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-149911-3
  15. Letter from Gustav Knittel to the head of the U.S. Army Secret Service, dated 5 January 1950 (NARA)
  16. Aussagen Gustav Knittels im Malmedy-Prozeß, Microfilm P82-A (NARA)
  17. Affidavit by Gustav Knittel, dated 15 March 1948 (NARA)
  18. Affidavit by Gustav Knittel, dated 1 May 1949 (NARA)
  19. Letter from Gustav Knittel to Willis M. Everett jr., dated 16 February 1948 (NARA)
  20. ww2awards.