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CASE: KHARVOV 1943: SAVING THE WOUNDED

Immediately after their arrival at the end of January 1943 on 75 trains at Kharkov, the units of the 2. SS Panzer Corps had spread out over the snowy plains to make contact with the troops of the 298 and 320. Infantry Division and guide them to their lines. These units were after the battle at Stalingrad in small and large groups retreating towards Kharkov. During this harsh journey, they were besieged by Soviet units and sometimes fell into their hands. In some cases, German prisoners of war were  liberated by Waffen SS reconnaissance units, who attacked Soviet positions deep in the hinterland.  The units of SS division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler succeeded in forcing a corridor for the survivors of the 320. Division, but this corridor was cut through on February 12th. Surrounded and with 1500 wounded in their ranks, they had to be pulled out as soon as possible. A Kampfgruppe led by SS-Sturmbahnführer Joachim Peiper, at that time the commander of the battalion of 2. Panzer Grenadiere equipped with halftracks, was ordered to save these units. His battalion was strengthened with a unit of StuG III's and 60 ambulances. Kampfgruppe Peiper managed to punch a hole in the Soviet lines, destroyed several Soviet tanks and advanced 48 kilometers behind the Soviet lines to find the remains of the division.

 

After the wounded had been hoisted in the ambulances, Peiper's men returned with the saved men to the German lines and discovered that a unit of Soviet troops had cut their way back and destroyed the only bridge over the river Udy. The Waffen SS unit attacked the Soviets and, after door-to-door fighting, managed to conquer the bridge and repair it provisionally. The column of ambulances was transferred to the safe bank of the river and the German lines. However, the heavy StuG's and halftracks could not cross the bridge and Peiper had to look for another ways to cross the river. After a search behind the Soviet lines, another crossing point was eventually found and Peiper returned with his units and the rescued infantrymen back to the safe lines of the Leib Standarte. His losses were limited to a few dozen dead and injuried. It is a good illustration of Auftragstaktik, the doctrine of deep penetration in the hinterland and the use of a Kampfgruppe. And of course of the leadership, the guts, the decision-making power, the perseverance and the courage of all those involved. 

Kampfgruppe Peiper 'on the move': StuG IIIs together with Sd.Kfz halftracks form the protective shield for the 60 ambulances and other vehicles that have to bring the wounded of enclosed units of the 298. and 320. Infantry Division to safety.