Last Lunge by Bitter-Ender Troops
Peiper's men were responsible for the slaughter of dozens of defenseless American prisoners at Malmédy. There was absolutely no excuse for that travesty, and those German troops should have been strung up. Everyone involved in the commission of that heinous act deserved the death penalty and should have received it. However, they did not due to post-war complications.
|Joachim Peiper is seen in a chilling shot during the Ardennes Offensive. That appears to be a Schwimmwagen. The Allies held both Malmedy and St. Vith at this time, but eventually, the Wehrmacht took both.|
The Ardennes OperationThe Ardennes Offensive (Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein ("Operation Watch on the Rhine")) was a last-ditch German gambit launched after a period of relative quiet on all fronts during the last stages of World War II. It had virtually no chance of success, but the Germans (well, Hitler at least) figured it was at least worthwhile to try for a big victory rather than simply succumb to the inevitable squeeze between the Americans and the Soviets. Their success was real, but also ephemeral. "Wacht am Rhein" was renamed "Herbstnebel," a name chosen by Field Marshal Model, after the operation was given the go-ahead in early December.
|The path of Kampfgruppe Peiper, 16-19 December 1944.|
|Fallschirmjaeger receiving his medal. These troops blew the hole in the American lines through which Peiper began his tank raid, at the cost of many of their lives.|
|A map of the massacre scene. Kampfgruppe Peiper emerged out of the woods in the upper right and took over the intersection from surprised GIs who thought the panzers were still far away.|
|Peiper (right center, blowing smoke) led his troops personally near Malmedy (note the signpost).|
|A King Tiger from Kampfgruppe Peiper, 1st SS Panzer Division abandoned at Stavelot, Belgium.|
|The destruction of Kampfgruppe Peiper.|
Peiper AfterwardsPeiper faced trial for war crimes after the war, and the most publicized charges were those concerning the incident near Malmedy. There are two versions because there were two very distinct groups of people who gave their accounts later: the SS guards, and the surviving POWs. The guards claimed that one or more prisoners made a break for it; a guard fired a warning shot or two, and then the prisoners all ran for it at once. The guards then claimed that they "had" to perpetuate what came to be known as the Malmédy Massacre. Pvt. 1st Class Georg Fleps, a Waffen-SS soldier from Rumania, was identified as the first Wehrmacht soldier to fire a shot. What the few SS men were supposed to do with the American POWs in the field if they hadn't shot them was never explained, as there was no means of transport to take them to POW camps. Basically, they all simply stood face to face with each other. Then, things happened.
The court believed the account of the American POWs and sentenced Peiper to death. The majority of the murdered US GIs were eventually shipped back to the States for private burials. Twenty-one, though, still lie buried in the American Military Cemetery at Henri-Chappelle, about forty kilometers north of Malmédy.
The Malmedy massacre was not the only alleged war crime incident involving Peiper's men during the Ardennes offensive. In fact, Battlegroup Peiper was accused of murdering between 538 to 749 nameless Prisoners of War and more than 90 unidentified Belgian civilians during the operation. Those incidents, however, have not received as much publicity and apparently were not thoroughly investigated at the time.
"It's so long ago now. Even I don't know the truth. If I had ever known it, I have long forgotten it. All I knew is that I took the blame as a good CO should and was punished accordingly."Some accounts place Peiper miles away throughout the entire incident and having nothing to do with it. However, the court found placed Peiper at the head of the column and in control of what took place. Found guilty and sentenced to death, Peiper was in prison for about a decade and was extremely lucky not to be hanged.
|A Panther commander of the Kampfgruppe Peiper urges some prisoners out of his path as he negotiates the narrow village street of Stoumont, Belgium, on 19 December 1944.|
Finally, in 1976, Peiper unwisely raised his profile and gave an interview about his war experiences to a French journalist. Incredibly, Peiper had chosen to live in France, where he was accused of having committed atrocities. The locals knew he was there and harassed Peiper, but he and his family disregarded their threats.
|Peiper in 1976, giving his final interview.|