The Malmédy Massacre: Snow and Blood

Malmédy, Belgium 1945
January 1945, executed American POW's bodies are uncovered by US Army personnel in Malmédy, Belgium.

The Malmédy Massacre occurred on December 17th 1944 when Nazi SS Stormtroopers opened fire on unarmed US POW's in Nazi occupied Belgium. When the machine guns fell silent 84 of nearly 150 unarmed American GI's were slaughtered like diseased pigs and their bodies were discarded in the snow and blood.

The events surrounding the massacre happened one day after Adolf Hitler ordered the great Ardennes Offensive beginning on the 16th - sending those Nazis that had served at the highest levels of German military and government into the field to protect Germany from a widening and successful Allied invasion.

This was the late war counter-offensive known as the Battle Of The Bulge.

The Winter of 1944-45 was the coldest and most snow-bound in Europe for 20 years. This brutal winter unfolded during the Ardennes Offensive and later during The Battle of the Bulge as US Forces cut deep inroads into Nazi occupied Europe and Germany itself. It was early in this brutal winter that these men lost their lives after having surrendered to German forces near a small Belgium town called Malmédy.

In mid-December of 1944, the Combat Group of the 1st SS Panzer Division, led by SS Major Joachim Peiper, was approaching the "Five Points" crossroads at Baugnes near the town of Malmédy where they encountered a small company of US troops from Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion from the US 7th Armored Division.

The German half-tracks and tanks charged across the farm fields and fired into a convoy of thin-skinned vehicles and lightly armed troops of the FAOB - catching the Americans by surprise. After a series of hopeless firefights and realizing that the odds were hopeless, the US company's commander, Lieutenant Virgil Lary, ordered a surrender.

At the war crimes trials that would take place in the aftermath SS-Obersturmführer Werner Sternebeck testified: "When my lead panzer (tank) had approached to within 60 to 70 meters of the column, the Americans stood up from the roadside ditch and raised their hands in surrender."

At this point, it was clear by all accounts that the small American force had surrendered to the armor and superior fire power of the Germans.

After being searched and relieved of weapons by the SS, the US prisoners were quickly marched into a field adjacent to the Cafe Bodarwé - whose owner had been murdered by the SS when they burned it down. The bulk of SS troops present during the day's skirmishing then moved on except for two Mark IV tanks numbered 731 and 732. These were left behind to ostensibly guard the captured GI's.

As he stood among his men, Lt. Lary could not know was how fanatical the SS group commander he had just surrendered to really was.

Joachim Peiper turned 18 the same day that Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany in 1933. Peiper signed up for military service soon after. During his SS officer training, Peiper actually volunteered for classes in torture at Dachau inside the infamous Jewish concentration camp. Rising high in the Nazi ranks, Peiper acted as a leader and as SS "König" Heinrich Himmler's personal adjutant (a military secretary of administrative services) from 1938 to 1941 and was close friends with Nazi elite.

This man that Lt. Lary had just surrendered his men to was in every sense of the word - a true Nazi.

As the Nazis held the US soldiers in a loose formation, the Nazis later stated that "a couple of GI's tried to flee into the nearest woods". At that point, the order was given to fire at them and stop the escape. SS Private Georg Fleps of Tank 731 drew his pistol and fired at one of the escapees, Lt. Lary's driver, and this man fell dead in the snow.

Dead bodies of American POW's are marked and then identified by US Army personnel in Malmédy, Belgium.
January 1945, bodies of American POW's are marked and identified by US Army personnel in Malmédy, Belgium.

According to survivor accounts Fleps then took aim at a medic, 1st Lt. Carl R. Genthner of 575th Ambulance Company and calmly fired three shots into him.

Then, for reasons still unclear, the machine guns of both Panzer tanks opened fire on nearly 150 unarmed prisoners. Many of the GI's immediately took to their heels and headed for the woods. Incredibly, 43 GI's survived, but 84 of their comrades lay dead in the field, being slowly covered with a blanket of snow and blood. Survivor accounts relate how SS soldiers went among the dead and wounded Americans and "finished the job".

According to survivor PFC Paul Hardiman, who lay badly wounded under a mass of brittle red snow and dead soldiers, 1st Lt. Carl R. Genthner the second unarmed prisoner that was shot that day was still alive enough plead for his life to the SS soldiers in German. His pleading went unheard and he was shot at point blank range, killing him instantly.

American Army brass was only made aware of the situation when a panicked Jeep driver drove a badly injured officer into camp screaming "Krauts!". The man was shot in the throat and the driver survived because they had trailed behind the doomed convoy. The Jeep's driver's name was Lt. Ksidzek [0].

No attempts were made at rescue or to recover the bodies until the area was retaken by the 30th Infantry Division on January 14th 1945. Men from the 291st Engineers used metal detectors to locate the bodies buried in two feet of snow.

Following the discovery and reports of the massacre, US troops in the area were issued official orders that for the next week: No SS prisoners were to be taken.

At the end of the war, Peiper, and 72 other suspects arrested for atrocities committed before and after this last offensive of the Wermacht. When they were brought to trial Peiper and his men were held responsible for the cold-blooded murders of 362 POW's and 111 civilians. Lt. Lary, who survived the bloody massacre testified against Joachim Peiper and his men.

When the trials ended on July 16th 1946, forty three of the defendants were sentenced to death by hanging, twenty two sentenced to life imprisonment, two sentenced to twenty years, one for fifteen years and five others sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

The Nuremberg Trials 1946 Joachim Peiper is pictured as Number 45 on the far right.
Nuremberg Trials 1946: Joachim Peiper is Number 42 on the far right.

Peiper and Fleps were among those sentenced to death but after a series of reviews these sentences were eventually reduced to terms in prison.

On December 22nd 1956, SS Sturmbannführer Peiper was released. Peiper's friends in the Nazi elite were no more. Heinrich Himmler had committed suicide awaiting trial in Nuremberg in 1945. Peiper himself eventually settled alone in the small village of Traves in northern France in 1972 where he earned a living by translating military books from English into German.

Four years later, on the eve of Bastille Day, July 14th 1976, Peiper was murdered and his house burned down by a French communist group known only as "The Avengers". The 61-year-old's charred body was recovered from the ruins and transferred to the family grave in Schondorf, near Landsberg in Bavaria.

After the original discovery of the massacre at Malmédy, most of the remains of the GI's murdered in Malmédy were shipped back to the US for private burials. Today, twenty-two bodies that were never sent home, including that of 33-year-old Lt. Carl R. Genthner, lie buried in the American Military Cemetery at Henri-Chappelle north of the woods of Malmédy were they fell.

[0] = Battle of the Bulge, Vol. 2: Hell at Bütgenbach / Sieze the Bridges
By Hans J. Wijers. Page 151

Wikipedia, SS Sturmbannführer Joachim Peiper
7th Armored Division, History of the 7AD
30th Infantry, The Malmedy Massacre at the Baugnez Crossroads
575th Ambulance Company, The Bitter End of 1st Lt. Carl R. Genthner
Army Quartermaster Foundation at Fort Lee, Malmédy Massacre
Massacres and Atrocities, Malmédy Massacre
Amazon, Malmedy Massacre

No comments: