Sepp Dietrich (left, behind Himmler), Heinrich Himmler (center), and Joachim Peiper (right) at Metz in September 1940.

Earlier in the war Peiper had served as a staff officer with Himmler before combat on the Eastern Front. Sepp Dietrich (left, behind Himmler), Heinrich Himmler (center), and Joachim Peiper (right) at Metz in September 1940.

The attack through the Ardennes was a desperate gamble for the Germans. They had stiffened their assault with some very experienced SS units, veterans of the Eastern Front, who could be trusted to fight ruthlessly. One of the these was SS Kampfgruppe Peiper, a 4,000 strong battle group led by 29 year old SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper, that was expected to make a rapid thrust through US lines and seize key positions.

The advance of this Kampfgruppe was not nearly as swift as they had hoped but many who crossed their path were to suffer. They were to be responsible for a series of mass murders of groups of both US POWs and Belgium civilians. It was an attitude to war that was commonplace on the Eastern Front.

The most notorious incident happened on the 17th at the Baugnez Crossroads a couple of miles outside Malmedy.

Ted Paluch was a member of Battery B, 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, in a lightly armed convoy of jeeps and trucks:

On December 17th we were in Schevenhutte, Germany, and got our orders to go. We were in the First Army; we got our orders to move to the Third Army.

There was a tank column going with us, and they took the northern road and we took the southern road. That would have been something if they had gone with us south. Right before we left, a couple of guys got sick and a couple of trucks dropped out of the convoy, and they were never in the massacre. Also, there were about fifteen sent ahead to give directions and all, and they escaped the massacre.

We had no idea that it was going to happen. We took a turn, like a “T” turn, and the Germans were coming the other way. We were pretty wide open for I guess maybe half a mile, and their artillery stopped our convoy. We just had trucks, and all we carried was carbines. We might have had a machine gun and a bazooka, but that was about it, we were observation.

They stopped the convoy. We got out, and the ditches were close to five or six feet high because I know when I got in it, the road was right up to my eyes. There was a lot of firing, I don’t know what we were firing at or who was firing at anything, but there were a lot of tracer bullets going across the road.

Finally, a tank came down with the SS troopers behind it. They wore black, and on one collar they had a crossbones and skull and the other collar they had lightning. They just got us out, and we went up to the crossroad, and they just searched us there to get anything of value — cigarettes, and I had an extra pair of socks, and my watch, everything like that.

They put us in the field there that was their frontline — ours was two and a half miles away in Malmedy. When we were captured and being brought up there, the people who lived there or in that general area brought up a basket. I guess it was bread or something, and they brought it up to them to eat.

[ 113 US POWs were assembled in the field at the crossroads. It was a cold day but light snow only lay on the ground where it was in shadow. At about 1415 the SS started firing into the group of unarmed men. The initial shooting lasted about 15 minutes.]

Every truck and halftrack that passed fired into the group, and why I didn’t get hit too bad . . . I was in the front, right in the front, the first or second or third right in the front. Each track that came around the corner would fire right into the group in the middle so that they wouldn’t miss anything, that’s why I didn’t get too badly hit.

We laid there for about an hour, maybe two hours. While we were lying there, they come around, and anyone who was hurt, they just fired and would knock them off.

Someone yelled, “Let’s go!” and we took off.

[At this stage it is believed around 60 men were able to run off, including some who were wounded. More would be killed during this escape.]

I went down the road there, there was a break in the hedgerow, and a German that was stationed there at that house came out and took a couple of shots at me, and I got hit in the hand. If he saw me or not I don’t know, he went back and didn’t fire me at me anymore.

I was watching him come, and there was a well, and I went over there. It was all covered up, and I laid down, and there was a little hill right behind where I was, and I just rolled.

I got there, and I started coming in, and I got near a railroad, and I figured it would take us somewhere. I met a guy from my outfit, Bertera, and two other guys—one guy from the 2nd Division, he was shot, and another guy from the 2nd Division. The four of us came in together. It was dark when we got into Malmedy, but we could see some activity.

This account appears in Voices of the Bulge: Untold Stories from Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.

The bodies of those killed now lay in the frozen field in what became no mans land until 14 January, when the US Army recovered the territory. After the war over 70 members of Kampfgruppe Peiper were tried for war crimes and 43 men were sentenced to death. None of the executions were carried out, the sentences being to commuted to life imprisonment. Joachim Peiper was the last to leave prison in 1956.

The 84 bodies of the POWs, covered by snow, were found on 14 January 1945.

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Dec

16

1944

Hitler launches surprise attack in Ardennes

A Nazi soldier, heavily armed, carries ammunition boxes forward 
with a companion in territory taken by their counter- offensive. A scene from a captured German film. Belgium, December 1944.

With nothing on our left and out of sight of our platoon on the right, it felt almost like we were against the entire German Army. I was horror-stricken. There was no thought of running away or surrendering. I had an absolute conviction to fight to the death, while being certain we would be killed.

Dec

15

1944

Nightmare of the hellship Oryoku Maru continues

On the morning of December 15, 1944, aircraft from the USS Hornet again attacked the Oryoku Maru as it was moving across Subic Bay toward Olongapo Point.  This time one bomb made a direct hit on the hatch of the aft cargo hold killing about 250 POWs. Later that morning the surviving POWs were allowed to jump off and swim to shore.

A Jap guard came over to where I lay and started to prod me on with his bayonet. I didn’t move fast enough to suit him so he jabbed a little harder. The bayonet entered my bad leg in two places. I didn’t feel it though, but as soon as I was on my feet and laboriously making my way to follow the line of men in front of me, my leg started bleeding profusely, running down my leg and leaving a small pool of blood with each step I took.

Dec

14

1944

POWs under attack on the hellship Oryoku Maru

A pre war post card of the Japanese liner the Oryoku Maru. The prisoners were packed into the holds of the ship, below decks.

This was not the only death that occurred at the hands of our men. Another young lad went out of his head and began calling to the Japanese sentry and attempting to get up the ladder to get at him. The gist of his shouts was that he had suffered all that he intended to and that he would kill the dirty bastard or die in the attempt. In order to protect the majority of those of us in the hold from threatened hand grenades, it was necessary to quiet this man; such effort being too great for the blow killed him.

Dec

13

1944

Sachsenhausen concentration camp – new arrivals

Sachsenhausen, north of Berlin, was established in 1936 for German detainees. It was also an administrative and training centre for the SS. Prisoners in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany, December 19, 1938.

The aged are allowed to die here. The process is short, but not painless. It’s terrible to see them. Those who come from Poland, for instance, have nothing to put on but the rags issued here, and it’s the depth of winter. Only a very few have anything on their feet but wooden boards tied on with straps or string. Of course they get pneumonia, tuberculosis and other illnesses and succumb in hundreds.

Dec

12

1944

Hitler’s last briefing – for a new offensive

The vigorous Hitler who had captivated huge audiences earlier in the war was no more.

As soon as hope of a victory disappears, the test of endurance will not be accepted with the same willpower with which, for instance, a fortress fights as long as it still has hope for relief. It is, therefore, important to remove the enemy’s confidence in victory from time to time, by making clear to him from the beginning, through offensive actions, that the success of his plans is impossible.

Dec

11

1944

US Surgeon describes American and German casualties

US Army Surgeons operating under canvas in a Field Hospital.

It is constantly amazing the terrific tenacity to life that these boys manifest. It is impossible to exaggerate what wonderful patients American boys are. They are brave and patient, seldom complaining, always cooperative. They accept pain without moans. They seldom become demanding of attention, no fussing for little things, nor claiming petty comforts as their due.

Dec

10

1944

Terror of the Kempeitai in Kanchanaburi

Prisoners of war, in their quarters in an open-sided attap hut in the POW camp (commonly called Kanburi by the Australians). All seem aware that their photograph is being taken secretly, at risk to themselves and the photographer if film or camera were discovered by the Japanese. Many prisoners were brought here from Burma after the Burma-Thailand railway was completed.

The Kempeitai were horrible little bastards. My most vivid memory of them is being lined up outside a hut as they beat a bloke to death who’d been caught with a radio hidden in a tin of peanuts. We had to stand to attention and listen to his screaming. The beating lasted a long time. I can’t say how long but the bastards knew how to prolong this torture and didn’t want him to die too quickly.

Dec

9

1944

Action in Italy – Captain John Brunt VC

A 25pdr of 266 Battery, 67th Field Regiment in use as a mortar near San Clemente, 2 December 1944.

Wherever the fighting was heaviest, Captain Brunt was always to be found, moving from one post to another, encouraging the men and firing any weapon he found at any target he could see. The magnificent action fought by this Officer, his coolness, bravery, devotion to duty and complete disregard of his own personal safety under the most intense and concentrated fire was beyond praise. His personal example and individual action were responsible to a very great extent for the successful repulse of these fierce enemy counter-attacks.

Dec

8

1944

General George S. Patton on the importance of Prayer

A Sherman tank crewman finds the mud heavy going in Germany, 24 November 1944.

He rubbed his face in his hands, was silent for a moment, then rose and walked over to the high window, and stood there with his back toward me as he looked out on the falling rain. As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of personal responsibility.