Forget “Bulge,” “Patton,” and words like “Nuts!” and remember “Duel in the Mist 2.’ It is an important telling of important events and will not disappoint. That’s “Duel in the Mist 2,” the second volume in the saga of the Leibstandarte and Kampfgruppe Peiper in the Ardennes Offensive.
If pitched by Hollywood agents, they would say it’s “24” meets “300” meets “Saving Private Ryan,” or “Das Boot,” but with tanks. No matter, it is where the sharp ends of two opposing armies met in winter hills and hamlets and clashed by day and night in the most unhospitable tank country imaginable. Fact: There are 23 continuous pages of photos of Panthers knocked out in and around LaGleize in this book. But more on photos later. Important as they are, they are just part of this package.
“DitM2” picks up where DitM left off. It is the night of December 19th-20th 1944. On December 20th, Combat Command B of U.S. 3rd Armored, split into two task forces, will clash with German forces in Stoumont. As with all encounters described in this book, the authors (Haasler, MacDougall, Vosters and Weber) set the stage with detailed orders of battle. Fact: By page 14, the end of the first chapter, they have already amassed 67 footnotes; not the anemic, distracting nonsense we filled our term papers with, but the meaty, satisfying notes that add a wealth of fascinating information to every statement. These notes are drawn from, among other sources, Unit Reports, map overlays, POW accounts, trial affidavits, G-2 Journals, and personal interviews, all interwoven into the main text. Like an 8.8cm gun platform on a suspension of interleaved road wheels, the text literally floats upon a layer of footnotes, smoothly and easily, allowing an unobstructed view of the story unfolding around you.
On page 33, the third outstanding element of his book is introduced: the maps. There are large, clear, concise, well-captioned maps in full color. Opposing forces, terrain features, routes of advance, road blocks, important buildings, etc. are all clearly deliniated. Fact: I love these maps.
The narrative has a tension all its own, from the clipped couplets of U.S. telephone logs (“I don’t want any excuses about getting in there tomorrow. Get going.”) to vivid accounts from tank interiors to lengthier passages of failed attacks. The story moves along with drama and verve and at times deadpan delivery: “Major McCown captured with a map board with all regimental installations on it.” And “May have to withdraw from chateau; enemy tank has drawn up and is firing point blank.” Germans, Americans and Belgian civilians all have their say in this accouting, and the authors achieve a nice interplay between the, by turns, aggressive and foolhardy Americans, the terrified and trapped civilians and the stoic and dangerous Germans: “The area started to receive fire by the U.S. tanks and two of Jaekel’s comrades disappear after a direct hit on their position.” “Ostubaf. Peiper saw to it that (Ostuf.) Sievers understood the importance of retaking the lost Sanatorium.” This is not a monolithic “Battle of the Bulge;” It is a constellation of probing attacks answered with wave after wave of vicious counterattacks; paratroopers vs. Flakwagons, Drilling vs. planes, planes vs. tanks, Panzerfausts vs. carbines. Fact: Anyone who bought Squadron/Signal’s “Panzergrenadier in Action” in the ’70s will finally get to read about the Sd.Kfz.251/2, /9, /17 and /21 actually “in action.” Deployed intelligently, they could be devastating. Turned against their original owners, they could be decisive. (Color profiles of the Sd.Kfz.251/7 and 251/9 as well as the SWPanther ‘211’ are also included.)
The authors have done a tremendous amount of work on the readers’ behalf and it shows on every page. You can reliably open the book at any point and be immersed in one action or plan of action after another: the harrowing attacks on the Sanatorium, the barbed wire of Cheneux, the slug fest in LaGleize. It’s all there: The chaos and ‘fog of war’ rendered in clarity and detail by those who’ve studied it longest. As embodied by the fictional Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” deep scholarship and high adventure need not be mutually exclusive.
Which brings us back to the photos. Just as German armored units were built up to full strength and then unleashed in the Ardennes, the authors have built up a formidable concentration of photos for this book, and they are presented here in unprecedented size and fidelity. David Thomson and Stefan DeMeyer of the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) provided an extensive selection of photographs painstakingly collected over a lifetime of research. Many more photos were acquired by the DitM team in the dozen years they have worked together on this project. Fact: there is more photo coverage here than you are likely to find anywhere else in the world – including the Ardennes itself.
“Duel in the Mist 2” is by turns somber, gritty, edge of the seat and exhaustive. It’s murder and mayhem and matter of fact: heroics wither in the face of high explosives whereas determination of the grimmest kind gains the objective, if only for a few hours.
Spend a few hours with ‘DitM2’ and you’ll be entertained and enlightened as never before. The best part? The DitM team are just hitting their stride and there’s more to come.
“Duel in the Mist 2” is getting its finishing touches now and has a planned release date of January, 2012, which gives you time to pick up the original “Duel in the Mist.”
Facts: DitM2 has 233 pages, 114 (mostly unpublished) images, 14 maps, 1 drawing, 10 profiles (3 different vehicles: 251/7 (4), 251/9 (4) and Panther 211 (2)) and four authors: Timm Haasler, Roddy MacDougall, Simon Vosters and Hans Weber.