Malmedy Massacre Trial
Bodies of American POWs killed at Baugnez Crossroads
The incident which became known as "the Malmedy Massacre" happened at the Baugnez Crossroads in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium on December 17, 1944, the second day of fighting in the famous Battle of the Bulge, where American troops suffered 81,000 casualties, including 19,000 deaths, in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The German army suffered 70,000 casualties with 20,000 dead.
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest combat action in the history of the American military; for 40 days, the men fought in the bitter cold of the worst winter weather in 20 years, not even stopping for Christmas Day. It was during this decisive battle that a number of American soldiers were taken prisoner by Waffen-SS soldiers who were fighting in the battle group named Kampfgrüppe Peiper, which was spearheading the German attack.
The photograph above shows some of the 72 bodies which were recovered after they were left lying in the snow until January 13, 1945, four weeks after they had been killed. The reason given by the US Army QM unit, which eventually retrieved the bodies, was that there was still heavy fighting in the area.
The US Army waited four weeks to collect most of the bodies, after they had been notified by local Belgian citizens. Another 12 bodies were recovered four months later, after all the snow had melted, making a total of 84 victims.
On the day of the incident, Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper's assignment had been to capture the bridge over the Muese in the Belgian town of Huy, and hold it to the last man until General Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army could cross over it, then rush across the northern Belgian plain to take the great supply port of Antwerp, which was the main objective of Hitler's Ardennes Offensive. Hitler had personally picked the route that Peiper was to take, but heavy artillery fire from the 2nd US Infantry Division had forced him to take an alternative route through the tiny village of Malmedy, close to the Baugnez Crossroads.
Peiper's Battle Group never reached its objective, which was the bridge over the Muese. Many of Peiper's tanks were destroyed by the Allies, and after Peiper ordered his men to destroy the remaining tanks and vehicles, the survivors escaped by wading and swimming across the river. Peiper's men were forced to retreat on foot, at a killing pace, on Christmas Eve 1944. Out of the 5,000 men in Peiper's unit, only 800 survived the Battle of the Bulge. Almost one out of ten of the survivors was indicted as a war criminal by the victorious Allies.
The Baugnez Crossroads was known to the Americans as Five Points because it was the intersection of 5 roads. There is considerable disagreement about what actually happened at Five Points on that Sunday afternoon in 1944 when the blood of American soldiers was spilled in the snow. The victims were members of Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. The function of this lightly-armed technical unit was to locate enemy artillery and then transmit their position to other units.
No two accounts of the tragedy agree, not even on the number that were killed. The official report said 86 were shot and there are 86 names on the Memorial Wall that has been erected at the site, but the Malmedy Massacre trial was based on the murder of the 72 soldiers whose bodies were autopsied after they were recovered on January 13, 1945, buried under two feet of snow.
According to the story that was pieced together by the American survivors, Peiper's assault unit had destroyed around a dozen American army spotter planes that day and had captured a group of American soldiers, who had been forced to ride along as Peiper's men continued down the road on their tanks. At the crossroads, the German tanks caught up with the American soldiers of Battery B, 285th Battalion which had just left the village of Malmedy and were traveling the same road, bound for the same destination. A US Military Policeman, Homer Ford, was directing traffic as a column of artillery vehicles, led by Lt. Virgil Lary, passed through the intersection, headed for the nearby village of St. Vith.
A five-minute battle ensued in which approximately 50 Americans were killed. Some of the Americans tried to escape by hiding in the Cafe Bodarwé at the crossroads, but Peiper's SS soldiers set the cafe on fire and then heartlessly gunned down those who tried to run out of the building. Survivors of the massacre said that the SS soldiers then assembled those who had surrendered after the battle in a field beside the Cafe. Madame Adele Bodarwé, the owner of the Cafe, was killed during the action, most likely by the Germans. Her body was never found, but her death was confirmed later by her husband, who was serving in the German Army at the time.
The following information, given to Charles Corbin when he interviewed Henri Rogister, a Belgian historian who researched the Battle of the Bulge, is from the web site of the Third Armored Spearhead Divison:
Quote from Henri Rogister in his interview with Charles Corbin:
Some testimony explain that American soldiers take refuge in the Café Bodarwé, and Americans tell The Germans killed them in there. I think no because The Germans burned the barn and the Café Bodarwé at the same time. For me there is no American soldiers killed in the barn and the Café, because I speak with Mr. Bodarwé and after the investigation in 1945 there was only a small part of a body found, maybe it was Mrs. Bodarwé. There is a German soldier named Kurt Briesemeister a tank commander who have a testimony where he tell it is a German who kill a woman at the Baugnez crossroads. Henri Lejoly who was living in Baugnez at this time, assisted with the Massacre, he have a story where he also thinks the Germans killed Madam Bodarwé.
According to Charles Whiting in his book entitled The Traveler's Guide to The Battle for the German Frontier, "The Americans huddled in a field to the right of the pub, some of them with their hands on their helmets in token of surrender; others smoking and simply watching the SS armor pull away, leaving their POWs virtually unguarded."
Peiper's tank unit continued down the road, after leaving behind a few SS men to guard the prisoners. Legend has it that Lt. Col. Peiper, who had an excellent command of the English language, passed the scene and called out to the American prisoners, "It's a long way to Tipperary."
According to Whiting's book, Peiper had heard that an American General was in the next village and he was on his way to capture him. General Dwight D. Eisenhower mentioned in his autobiography, "Crusade in Europe," that there was some concern among the American generals about being captured, although he didn't mention Peiper by name.
Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper
At the Dachau proceedings, Lt. Virgil Lary was able to identify Pvt. 1st Class Georg Fleps, a Waffen-SS soldier from Rumania, who allegedly fired the first two shots with his pistol. Some versions of the story say that he fired a warning shot in the air when several prisoners tried to make a run for it. Other versions say that he deliberately took aim and shot one of the Americans. Panic ensued and the SS soldiers then began firing upon the prisoners with their machine guns. The survivors testified that they had heard the order given to kill all the prisoners: "Macht alle kaputt."
According to the testimony of three survivors who played dead, the SS murderers were laughing as they walked among the fallen American soldiers and shot those who still showed signs of life. The autopsies showed that 41 of the Americans had been shot in the head and 10 had head injuries consistent with being bashed with a rifle butt. Curiously, most of the victims were not wearing their dog tags, although all of them were identified by their personal effects, since there were no wallets or watches taken by the Germans.
1st. Lt. Virgil Lary points out Sturmmann Georg Fleps
Private Georg Fleps, who is shown in the photograph above, was sentenced to death by hanging, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Forty-two of the accused were sentenced to death, but all the sentences were commuted to life after a Congressional investigation determined that there had been misconduct by members of the prosecution team.
The photograph below shows one of the survivors, an American soldier named Kenneth Ahrens, on the witness stand as he demonstrates how he held up his hands to surrender. Seated beside him is the interpreter who was responsible for translating his words into German for the benefit of the accused.
Kenneth Ahrens demonstrates how he surrendered
The exact number of soldiers who surrendered to the Germans is unknown, but according to various accounts, it was somewhere between 85 and 125. After the captured Americans were herded into the field at the crossroads, they were allegedly shot down by Waffen-SS men from Peiper's Battle Group in what an American TV documentary characterized as an orgy motivated by German "joy of killing."
Forty-three of the Americans taken prisoner that day managed to escape and lived to tell about it. One of them was Kenneth Ahrens, pictured above, who was shot twice in the back. Seventeen of the survivors ran across the snow-covered field, and made their way to the village of Malmedy where they joined the 291st Engineer Battalion.
The massacre occurred at approximately 1 p.m. on December 17th and the first survivors were picked up at 2:30 p.m. on the same day by a patrol of the 291st Engineer Battalion. Their story of the unprovoked massacre was immediately sent to General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the war in Europe, who made it a point to disseminate the story to the reporters covering the battle.
One of the news reporters at the Battle of the Bulge was America's most famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was covering the war for Collier's magazine. When the gory details of the Malmedy Massacre reached the American people, there was a great outcry for justice to be done. To this day, the Malmedy Massacre is spoken of as one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the hated Waffen-SS soldiers.
The Inspector General of the American First Army learned about the massacre three or four hours after the first survivors were rescued. By late afternoon that day, the news had reached the forward American divisions. In his book , entitled "The Ardennes, The Battle of the Bulge," Hugh Cole wrote the following:
Thus Fragmentary Order 27 issued by Headquarters, 328th Infantry on 21 December for the attack scheduled for the following day says: "No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoners but will be shot on sight."
In his book called "The Other Price of Hitler's War: German Military & Civilian Losses Resulting from WW 2," author Martin Sorge wrote the following regarding the events that took place after the massacre:
"It was in the wake of the Malmedy incident at Chegnogne that on New Year's Day 1945 some 60 German POWs were shot in cold blood by their American guards. The guilt went unpunished. It was felt that the basis for their action was orders that no prisoners were to be taken."
America had signed the Geneva Convention of 1929 which required the treatment of German POWs according to the rules of the convention. In the Dachau trials of concentration camp staff members, the judges had ruled that Germany was required to follow the rules of the Geneva convention, which they had signed, even with respect to Russian POWs, although the Russians had not signed the convention and were not following its rules.
No American soldier was ever punished for the killing of German POWs; the accused Germans were not even allowed to mention in court that German POWs had been murdered in cold blood by American soldiers, including those killed during the Battle of the Bulge.
Today, there are also "deniers" such as disgraced historian, David Irving, who claim that there was no massacre at all, and that these American soldiers were killed in a battle with the Germans which took place at the crossroads.
Some of the SS men, who were convicted by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, are still alive, but they tend to keep a low profile because even now, more than 60 years after the incident at the crossroads, they are afraid of losing their pensions or suffering reprisals if they speak out.
The following description was given to me recently by a former German soldier, who was a member of the 2nd SS Panzer Division of the Leibstandarte Hitler Jugend. He was convicted by the American Military Tribunal and sentenced to prison, together with a number of his comrades, for his involvement in the Malmedy Massacre. For obvious reasons, he wishes to remain anonymous. The following is his account which he sent to me in e-mail:
"Our tanks were coming under American fire; the leading Tank was hit and its crew bailed out; the following tanks pushed it off the road and we kept going; a few kilometers on, a small group of (approximately 14) American infantrymen surrendered to us and they laid down their weapons. We radioed back to tell the troops behind us to gather up the American POWs and one of our soldiers was left behind to guard them.
A short while later we got a call from our Infantry to say they had arrived at the scene to pick up the American POWs and had come under heavy fire; apparently the Americans who had previously surrendered had jumped and killed the soldier left to guard them and, together with more Americans that had arrived in the meantime, had laid an ambush for the SS that came to pick them up. Colonel Peiper sent some Tanks and ground troops back to assist.
A heavy battle ensued, with hand-to-hand combat, whereby heavy casualties were taken on both sides. The Germans won the battle and gathered up their dead and wounded leaving the bodies of the Americans. It was later claimed the Americans killed in hand-to-hand combat were "beaten to death" by the SS, which is true, except it occurred in battle and not after they were captured.
When the war ended, I was arrested along with the remaining members of my regiment and put on trial by the Americans. All of us were kept in cells with no lights and when we were taken out of the cells they put sacks over our heads and we were beaten almost daily. The men in my regiment who had taken part in the battle at the crossroads were tortured very badly; they had their noses broken and their testicles were crushed and they were beaten until they signed confessions that they had massacred the Americans. These men were sentenced to death.
Because I had not been at the crossroads battle, but at the front a few kilometers away, I was given 20 years hard labor instead of the death sentence; even the crew of the tank that had been hit first and left kilometers behind were given 20 year sentences.
It wasn't until an American Judge later discovered that the confessions had been tortured out of my comrades that many of the sentences were reduced."
This page was last updated on July 5, 2012