Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Massacre at Malmedy

Mural by F. Leger, Mardasson Monument, Bastogne, Belgium

The Massacre of Malmedy and its aftermath has not lost its power to shock with the passage of time.  Here is what happened on the second day of the German offensive known to us at the Battle of the Bulge...

"On 17th December 1944, at the Baugnez cross-roads near Malmedy, SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Joachen Peiper and his Kampfgruppe of the 1st SS Panzer Division "Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler" , encountered a vehicle column of Battery B, 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion.  The lightly armed Americans surrendered quickly and 113 prisoners were gathered in meadow near the Cafe Bodarwe.  Suddenly some of the armored vehicles standing in front of the meadow opened fire with their machine-guns, mowing down the prisoners.  After a while, SS men strode through the rows of American bodies lying on the ground, shooting the wounded.  Despite everything, 46 of the prisoners survived, while 67 Americans died in the massacre of Malmedy."  The Battle of the Bulge, Jean Milmeister, 2011.

German Panzer tank, Houffalize, Belgium
But it is the aftermath of the Malmedy massacre that is even more shocking than the events of that frightful day.  Consider the account that follows and ask yourself whether justice was ever served on the murderers of Malmedy.

"At the end of the war, instructions went out from the American Judge Advocate General's department to all POW detention camps to retain all men of the First SS Panzer Regiment.  Information on the whereabouts of Dietrich and Peiper was considered 'most urgent'.

Dietrich turned up first in a camp at Wiesbaden having been captured on May 15.  But where was Peiper?  Most German troops captured would not admit they were SS, let alone give their unit designations.

It was not until August that a newsman from Stars and Stripes published a story that one Lieutenant Colonel Joachen Peiper was at that moment sitting in a military intelligence centre at Nuremberg.  The story was proved to be true although he was not easy to find.

German Soldier with heavy machine-gun, Bastogne, Belgium
Ten thousand prisoners had to be screened before he was uncovered together with twenty-four of the First Panzer SS members.  During the next month more suspects were traced in Germany, Austria, France and England.  By the end of September nearly 1000 former SS men were in a special camp at Ludwigsburg.  finally seventy-three suspects were transferred to Schwabisch Hall at Landsberg and brought to trial.  This began on May 16, 1946 before an all American tribunal (unlike the international tribunal at Nuremberg) lasted two months and among the witnesses who appeared was Lieutenant Lary and Pfc. Ford.

The trial encompassed more than the Malmedy massacre.  At least ten other atrocities were accredited to the Peiper Kampfgruppe among the line of advance at Honsfeld, Bullingen, Ligneville, Chemeux, Stavelot, Trois Ponts, Stourmont, Wanne, Lutrebois, and Petit Trier.

The total number of victims--308 soldiers and 111 Belgian civilians although the actual total was believed to be three hundred higher.

When the trial ended on July 16, forty-three suspects were sentenced to death, twenty-two to life imprisonment, two for twenty years, one for fifteen years, and five for ten years,  Peiper and Fleps, who fired the first  shot were among those sentenced to death.

Note US Flag in stained glass at Saint Pierre, Bastogne
All sentecnes were subject to a series of reviews by three different boards.  By March 1948 the death sentences had been reduced from forty-three to twelve and only fourteen life sentences remained.

Of the three men to hang, one stay followed another.  The SS men gave different affidavits claiming confessions had been drawn from them by mock trials, fake executions, beatings and other pressures.

The political atmosphere of the Cold War was also beginning to have effect on the Americans attitude towards their previous enemy who now might be needed as an ally.  In May 1948 Willis Everett, chief  of the defence at the trial, petitioned the United States Supreme Court, alleging brutalities in the investigations and irregularities in the trial.

After a further review appointed by the Secretary of the Army the death sentences were commuted to imprisonment on September 14.

The arguments continued throughout 1949, being taken up by several newspapers and the case went to the Armed Services Committee for further consideration.  On April 18, 1949 the committee began to investigate a possible case against the US Army.

The original massacre seemed forgotten in a furore of statements, counter statements and newspaper articles.  Senator McCarthy then stepped into the limelight and the case became a political attack against the Army.  The Senate investigating committee returned to Germany and after five months of investigation adjourned the hearing on September 28.

Brigadier General McAuliffe, Bastogne, Belgium

On October 25, 1955 Dietrich was released from the US prison at Landsberg against the wishes of Brigdier General McAuliffe, by then having been promoted to US Army Commander in Gemany.  General McAuliffe had previosuly rejected three petitions from Dietrich for release.  A year later on December 22, 1956 against protests from the American legion, Peiper was set free."  Source: After the Battle, Battle of the Bulge, Number 4, 1974.

Commander Kelly concludes.  SS Lieutenant Colonel Peiper led and was responsible for a unit that committed multiple war crimes and slaughtered Americans and Belgian civilians in cold blood.  Tragically, the US government chose political expediency over the cause of Justice.  Terrible things happen during all wars, but we must not forget that war is not the same as murder.  The Massacre at Malmedy shocks us because the victims were American, but similar massacres were perpetrated on the Eastern front against the Soviets by many SS units throughout that four year conflict.  Those historians (such as Antony Beevor) who assert that the allied fire bombing of Dresden was "unnecessary" must also acknowledge that the Massacre at Malmedy and the thousands killed on the Railway of Death in Thailand / Burma (see earlier post, Bridge on the River Kwai, 9/17/12) were equally unnecessary.

Special thanks to my guide in Bastogne, Henri Mignon who can be reached at

You can now find Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades,  here or on Amazon

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