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Notes and Quotes- December 27, 2020

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The ‘Battle of the Bulge’ Massacres of 1944-45

By Tom Morrow

During World War II, it is the generally misconception the Dec. 17, 1944, POW murders was a single event. The so-called “massacre” of 86 unarmed U.S. troops at the Baugnez crossroads near Malmedy, Belgium by German Waffen SS troops was not a single event – it was far from it.
The Malmedy massacre was a war crime committed by members of a panzer (tank) unit led by Col. Joachim Peiper. The incident took place at the Baugnez crossroads near the village of Malmedy during the infamous Battle of the Bulge, the last great German-Allied forces clash of World War II. At the crossroads, 120 American soldiers were forced to surrender, assembled in a field and shot with machine guns. Those still alive were killed by close-range shots to the head, a few escaped into the nearby woods. But there were 12 other “massacre” incidents.
The “Malmedy Massacre” is a period of time between Dec. 17-21, 1944, applying generally to a series of murders committed by the same German SS panzer unit. A total of 13 separate murder incidents near Malmedy saw a total of 373 unarmed American troops and 111 Belgium civilians gunned down. All had been captured, disarmed, stood up and gunned down by machine-gun fire at the order of Col. Joachim Peiper, leader of the unit. Adolf Hitler had ordered this last-ditch battle to be carried out with brutality in order to frighten U.S. troops.
The Germans ran into unexpected resistance from the Americans. For instance, a single platoon of 22 U.S. soldiers held up a full battalion of about 500 German paratroopers in the village of Lanzerath, Belgium for nearly an entire day. The Germans finally captured the small American unit when they ran low on ammunition. Only one American was killed, while 14 were wounded: German casualties totaled 92.
At 4:30 a.m., on Dec. 17, the SS troops headed west capturing Honsfeld where the Germans captured a small fuel depot. Peiper’s force killed another 59 unarmed American POWs and one civilian.
Around noon on Dec. 17, 1944, the treachery began when the Germans approached the Baugnez crossroads, two miles southeast of Malmedy. An American convoy of about 30 vehicles, mainly elements of an artillery observation unit, arrived at the crossroads where it had been ordered to join the U.S. 7th Armored Division. Peiper’s unit spotted the American convoy and immobilized the first and last vehicles of the column, forcing it to stop. Armed with only rifles and other small arms, the Americans readily surrendered to the heavily armed German tank force.
The German troops assembled the U.S. prisoners in a field along with other prisoners captured earlier in the day. Many of the survivors testified about 120 troops were standing in the field when the SS troops opened fire with machine guns.

A U.S. war correspondent looks over the murdered U.S. POWs

When the shooting began, the POWs panicked and started running, but most were shot where they stood. Some pretended to be dead, but SS troops shot any who appeared to be alive. A few ran to a café at the Baugnez crossroads, but SS soldiers set fire to the building and shot anyone trying to escape.
Later, a few survivors emerged from hiding and returned to nearby U.S. held Malmedy. The survivors’ stories were consistent and corroborated each other. By late evening of Dec. 17, rumors the enemy was killing prisoners had reached the forward American divisions. In retaliation, one U.S. Army unit was issued orders that, “No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoner but will be shot on sight.” It is unclear whether that order was ever carried out.
At the Baugnez crossroads Army troops photographed the frozen, snow-covered bodies where they lay, and then removed them from the scene for identification and detailed post mortem examinations. More massacres of POWs were reported in the Belgium villages of Stavelot, Cheneux, La Gleize, and Stoumont. On Dec. 19, German forces killed some 100 Belgian civilians. More killings of POWs occurred on Dec. 31, that were personally ordered by Peiper. To this day, in all, the number of POWs and civilians massacred by Peiper and his troops is estimated to be between 538 and 749.
In 1946, the Dachau “Malmedy massacre” trial concerned all of the war crimes attributed to Colonel Peiper during the Battle of the Bulge. The highest-ranking defendant was 6th army commander Gen. Sepp Dietrich. Peiper and his accompanying defendants were tried with more than 70 receiving 43 death sentences (none of which were ever carried out) and 22 life sentences. Eight other men were sentenced to shorter prison terms. By the early fifties, all had been freed.
It’s been 75 years since the “massacre.” U.S. Army Private Harold Billow, now 97 years old, (this year of 2020), is believed to be the last survivor of those infamous murders.
 


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To Learn More about Tom Morrow, the author click here
E-mail Tom Morrow at: quotetaker1939@gmail.com

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Notes and Quotes- December 27, 2020