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.