The Malmedy Massacre

Posted on Tuesday 17th December 2013

On the afternoon of 17 December 1944, at the Baugnez Crossroads near Malmédy, Kampfgruppe Peiper met an American convoy on the Ligneuville road. The Battery B column of trucks and jeeps came under fire and the men, from 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, exited their vehicles to be marched to the field near Café Bodarwé.
The massacre was neither a premeditated slaughter, nor a complete battlefield accident. There were elements of both, primarily brought on by the actions of Max Beutner or Eric Rumpf (which, is not completely clear). Suffice it to say that the battlegroup commander, Obersturmbannführer Jochen Peiper was not there. However, Werner Poetschke was present and fuming after a particularly testy encounter with Peiper regarding the lack of progress of the tank group and the missing nature of Werner Sternebeck's spearhead (unknown to them it had already motored on ahead). Peiper was also annoyed that the firing would alert the American forces in Ligneuville nearby. He had learned that an American general, (General Edward Timberlake) was there and having never captured one before, was intent on that prospect!

Obersturmbannfuhrer Jochen Peiper.

In any case, Peiper gave Poetschke an earful about having shot up the trucks, suggested that he impress them into the column and drove on. His exact words to Poetschke were;
‘What is the meaning of this sitting around! The little there is to be done here can be taken care of by the infantry!’
With that, Peiper in a jeep driven by Paul Zwigart, zoomed off. On the radio. Peiper immediately ordered Arndt Fischer to proceed to Ligneuville at maximum speed. Peiper drove right behind him. Peiper gone, Poetschke then dismounted from his tank to approach the prisoners walking up to the crossroads. His blood must have boiled when he found that the surrendered Americans ignored his request in broken English (Chauffeur? Chauffeur!) that some of the Americans volunteer to drive the trucks for his column. They kept walking and completely ignored him. They did not even turn their heads! Ignoring an angry SS officer may have sealed their fate. After that, Poetschke gave Rumpf an earful and prepared to leave himself. What he said is unclear as Beutner died at Stoumont a few days later and Rumpf appears never to have been completely honest regarding his involvement. That is the way command works – negative admonishment flows downhill. By the time, the shooting began, it appears that Poetschke, too, was headed south. A few tanks of the 7th Panzerkompanie were parked by the prisoners. (Hans Siptrott, Roman Clotten and Pilarsek further back). Several halftracks from 9th Panzer Pioniere Kompanie were also present. In his original deposition (later retracted at Landsberg), Siptrott indicated that he was ordered to fire on the prisoners, but refused claiming inadequate ammunition. However, a Romanian SS volunteer in his tank, Georg Fleps, popped out of one tank hatch, produced a pistol and fired. As if on signal, several machine guns on the nearby halftracks opened fire. Most of the GIs were stood in the field when the shooting started (first pistol shots), but not all. At least two Americans bolted for the rear at the first shot. The rest stood when the firing began, but there was a good amount of shouting. Such is understandable; men were dying. It is notable that Siptrott had never denied the shooting that ensued, and has always maintained that his first reaction to the above was to kick Georg Fleps and throw his Mark IV in gear to get away from this mess. It makes it clear that a mass shooting did happen to men standing there although with a number shot as they ran. A number ran at the first shots. Later, in Ligneuville, an angry Siptrott reported on Flep's actions, knowing that this whole incident would create a lot of trouble. He was right.

'Most of the GIs were stood in the field when the shooting started (first pistol shots), but not all. At least two Americans bolted for the rear at the first shot.'

After the initial shooting, members of the pioniere battalion moved through the mass of Americans lying in the field and shot anyone who appeared to remain alive. Amazingly, after the Germans departed the scene later that afternoon, some thirty Americans, who were still alive and feigning death, rose suddenly from the field and ran towards friendly lines. Many would escape and report an incident that would haunt Peiper and his men for the rest of their days.
A grim discover under the snow – the body of a victim with an identification marker. (US Army Signal Corps)

SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Werner Poetschke, commander of the 1./SS-Panzer-Regiment 1.

Further Reading

A Tour Of The Bulge Battlefield
(Paperback - 256 pages)
ISBN: 9780850528343

by William Cavanagh
Only £14.99

For Hitler's Germany the Bulge counter-attack was a desperate gamble and one that very nearly came off. This battle still holds the record for the highest number of American troops engaged in any single pitched battle in the history of the United States Army. The author expertly describes the intense fighting and drama.
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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