File No.: Battle Study # 11

Title: 84 enlisted men and NCO' s of "B" Battery,  285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion;

1 Military Police man;

1 enlisted man from the 86th Engineer Battalion;

10 enlisted men from the 575th and 546th Ambulance Companies;

8 enlisted men from the 32nd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion;

2 enlisted men from the 200th Field Artillery Battalion and

1 NCO from the 23rd Infantry Regiment
Investigation made at: Baugnez, Belgium & Dachau, Germany

Period Covered: December 17, 1944
Date: February, 2008
Case Classification: US soldiers killed by SS troops after being taken POW and disarmed
Status of Case: Closed

 

REASON FOR INVESTIGATION
This investigation was initiated after it was understood that the location where the infamous "Malmedy Massacre" took place on the 17th of December 1944, is marked incorrectly as "on this spot" on the monument in honor of the killed US Servicemen.


 

(click on the image to enlarge)

 


Malmedy Massacre Memorial

SYNOPSIS:
A classic example of a war crime investigation is the Malmedy Massacre case. Much has been written about the incident and the ensuing investigation and subsequent trial. The incident is reenacted in Hollywood productions as "Battle of the Bulge" and "Saints and Soldiers".

In this study we show the exact location where the incident took place.

DETAILS:
There are several accounts of what happened.

American publications published shortly after the incident (Yank Magazine) or after the ending of World War Two, all describe the shooting and killing of American Prisoners of War as a deliberate act of the SS troop spearheading the December 1944 Nazi Ardennes Offensive.

 

(click to open articles)
1)   2)


1) January 26th 1945 Yank Magazine article on Malmedy Incident
2) Saga of the All American, History of the 82nd Airborne Division


Postwar investigations led to other views on the incident.
We publish the three leading post-war  scenarios.
(Taken from Jean Paul Pallud's 1984 "Battle of the Bulge Then and Now".)

Scenario 1 "The Official Account"
This is the explanation of the sequence of events that was given by the prosecution at the post-war trial held at Dachau, Germany, of those alleged to have been responsible. There it was explained that after having surrendered, the American prisoners were gathered in a field beside the road and guarded by armoured vehicles and grenadiers. A German officer (sometimes identified as SS-Sturmbahnfuehrer (Major) Werner Poetschke) arrived with the bulk of the armoured column. This officer then ordered that the prisoners be killed, the actual command being initiated by the gunner of Panzer IV No. 731, SS-Sturmmann Georg Fleps, who reputedly fired the first shot with a pistol.

Scenario 2 "POW's mistaken for US combat troops"
This account leads one to believe that, as the prisoners had been left in the field under only light guard, they were on the point of taking up arms again when the main body of Kampfgruppe Peiper came on the scene. Mistaking the men for combatants, the German troops opened fire as they approached.

Scenario 3 "The Escape Theory"
While the Germans were otherwise engaged with their vehicles, possibly carrying out running repairs preparatory to pushing on through enemy territory, the American prisoners took the opportunity to make a break. A German fired a warning shot with his handgun whereupon panic broke out on both sides, the grenadiers opening up with machine guns.

While the first explanation - the 'official' version - may appear fairly plausible, the detailed statements given at the trial are somewhat unconvincing. Lieutenant Lary was photographed pointing out the culprit who fired the first shot as Georg Fleps who is seen, scrubbed and clean-shaven, sitting in the dock. At the time, Lary only had a few moments to see who had fired first in the meadow - a man who was then most probably muffled up in heavy winter clothing, unshaven and dirty. Could he safely identify such a man two years later in completely different surroundings? And why should a tank gunner open fire with a pistol when he had a much more effective weapon - the tank machine gun - at his disposal? And why, if a premeditated massacre, would half the prisoners standing in that field have survived?


 

Further reading
A very comprehensive article about the event and the ensuing trial was written by Michael Reynolds and appeared in the February 2003 issue of World War II magazine. For the online article click here.
 

CONCLUSIONS:
We have studied the official report of the Malmedy Massacre Investigation, numerous photographs, film footage and other literature on the subject. We also visited the location of the incident in Belgium. It is our opinion that what has actually happened will never be absolutely certain. What we can reconstruct from all available evidence is that a short skirmish took place between the lead elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper and the American soldiers before the latter surrendered. The Americans were all members of support and medical units and therefore lightly armed. Side arms would have been .30 caliber M1 carbines and .45 caliber automatic pistols and perhaps some .50 caliber heavy machine gun mounted on the trucks. The German soldiers in the Kampfgruppe formed the spearhead of the Ardennes Offensive and were by nature heavily armed. The Americans understood their options and choose wisely to surrender.


There are German accounts describing the short firefight and they describe machine gunners firing into the ditches alongside the road. It is known that G.I.'s took cover in these ditches. Undoubtedly, there must been Americans killed in action in that firefight. There are no doubts about the survivors and the wounded being herded into the pasture South of the Cafe Bodarwe. It is a known fact that the American soldiers were scared after what had happened to them. The fact that someone fired to shots, is confirmed by both American and German sources. It is also acknowledged that these shots had the effect of a starting signal to open fire with machineguns, mounted on the German vehicles at a very close range.
Much to their frustration, dismounted members of the German guard detail must have watched other German elements advance toward their objective.


They were under orders to wait for the infantry to collect the American POW's. Although there is no hard evidence of it, it is generally assumed that Peiper had instructed Major Werner Pőtschke: "You know what to do with prisoners!"
This command could either mean sending POW's to the rear or to shoot them. Group dynamics may have caused the German soldiers to reason that, after the first few prisoners were shot, it would be appropriate to kill them all as to not leave any witnesses to the incident.
If that was their intention, they did a sloppy job. There were survivors and their accounts of the incident grew to mythical proportions. Within twenty four hours, the death toll under US POW's would be well in the hundreds.

 

During the Malmedy Massacre investigation, confessions are said to have been obtained through the use of force by the American interrogators. This caused the court's verdicts to be reviewed. But it nevertheless leaves the main accusation untouched. A group of American soldiers was shot and killed after they had surrendered and were disarmed.


On February 23rd 2008, Battledetective.com visited the exact location of the field in which most of the massacre victims fell. After the first volley of fire, the G.I.'s made an escape attempt in the direction of a tree line on a slope in South Western direction. Several escapees were then shot in the fields leading to that tree line.

This is the field:

(click on image to enlarge)

EXHIBITS:
Although the monument marker says: "on this spot", the actual location on the massacre is across the road.
This is an impression of the location in Then and Now comparison photographs:

(click on images to enlarge)

The massacre field minutes after the crossroads at Baugnez had been recaptured by US forces in January 1945.
The sign reads "off limits". The recovery of the remains of the victims will start shortly after this photo had been taken.

Some of the victims with numbered tags for identification and investigative purposes. In the "Now-"photo the Baugnez Museum can been in the background.
Nazi paratroopers taken prisoner are led past the massacre field. American Grave Registration and medical personnel stop their work and watch the prisoners.
The field with the burnt-out Cafe Bodarwe in the back ground. Today there is a new building on the same location.
Filed with the location of the post-war monument in the back ground. Proof of an error in the inscription of 'on this spot' on the monument.

Approximately 100 yards south of the location is a new museum named Baugnez44. It was officially opened in December 2007 and features weapons, uniforms, vehicles, photographs, film footage and other items which all tell the story of the Battle of the Bulge. The museum puts a certain emphasis on the Malmedy Massacre in various displays. There are scaled dioramas and a life size impression of what the field must have looked like before investigators started to recover the bodies of the killed GI's in January 1945.

This is an impression of what the museum shows about this subject:
 


(click on images to enlarge)

 

Bouquet in the middle of the massacre field

April 7th, 2010 UPDATE:
U.S. Army Major Scott T. Glass' article titled "Mortuary Affairs Operation at Malmedy, Lessons Learned From A Historic Tragedy", published in Quartermaster Professional Bulletin in their 1997 autumn issue, gives us a comprehensive insight in the way the 3060th Quartermaster Graves Registration Service Company conducted their recovery and identification work after the massacre field was recaptured by friendly forces in January 1945.Their job resembled much that of modern day crime scene investigators, medical examiners and crime lab technicians.  Although MAJ Glass focuses on the work of today's army in a Mortuary Affairs Collection Point (MACP), comparing the job of the 3060th at Malmedy with the guidelines set forth in modern procedures - Joint Publications 4-06 to be specific -, his analysis is of historic value; especially in light of "combat scene investigation".


The article has these paragraphs that are interesting for this Battle Study:

"The 3060th Quartermaster Graves Registration Service Company's 4th Platoon [...] arrived in the MALMEDY area and entered the massacre site on January 13, 1945, immediately after US units had recaptured the crossroads area.
[...]
Operations began at the massacre field on January 14, 1945, and ended late the next day.
Throughout the operation, the recovery field remained a frontline combat area. The US Infantry had dug foxholes across a corner of the field, and German artillery observers could see the activity around the crossroads area.
On several occasions, incoming German artillery fire forced temporary suspension of work. In some cases,
the shelling mangled some of the remains, complicating recovery and identification.
[
...]
Litter teams from the 3200th Quartermaster Service Company and the 291st Engineer Battalion carried the remains several hundred meters on a road leading to MALMEDY to a point secure from German observation. There the teams loaded the remains onto trucks for the short trip to the processing site.
[...]
The 3060th set up processing operations in an abandoned railway building in MALMEDY The building had bombing and artillery damage to its roof and walls and had no running water and no electricity to permit night operations.
However, it was the best available facility which combined space, proximity to the recovery site, security and access to operation support. Processing operations ceased at nightfall. Other advantages of the railway building included a tile floor for laying out the remains and the building's relative obscurity, which sheltered it from public view.
The temperature inside stayed little above freezing, and workers had to set up several coal-burning drums to provide some heat. Upon entering the railway station, 3060th Quartermaster Company workers placed the remains on the tile floor and then moved them to tables for processing.
[...]
A survey of the 72 autopsies and photographs of remains on file indicate at least 20 had potentially fatal gunshot wounds to the head inflicted at very close range in addition to wounds from automatic weapons.
Most head wounds showed powder burns on the remains' skin. An additional 20 showed evidence of small caliber gunshot wounds to the head without powder burn residue. Another 10 had fatal crushing or blunt trauma injuries, most likely from a German rifle butt. This easily confirmed US suspicions that a serious atrocity actually did occur.
[...]
Lessons Learned
---------------
The Malmedy Massacre happened 52 years ago. Although Quartermaster mortuary affairs doctrine has undergone many changes since then, lessons learned from the operation still apply to
operations today.
[...]
Work Site Selection.
Several factors prevented using large buildings near the recovery site as a primary workplace.
First, the site remained under German aircraft overflights, observation and intermittent artillery fire. Second, a smaller railway building with some heat source would greatly ease the cold conditions for soldiers performing the processing operations. Third, the railway building in MALMEDY was much closer to the barracks and mess facility supporting the workers. Fourth, the smaller building's location was easily protected from public view. Fifth, the road network of Malmedy could be easily accessed from the railway building. Although not a perfect site, the railway building offered the best combination of advantages and the fewest disadvantages.
Using Joint Publication 4-06 checklists as a yardstick, the MACP building satisfied most of today's requirements."

In december 2009, Battledetective.com visited the railway station building of Malmedy. We found the rail road tracks abandoned and the steel rails removed. The building still looks like the one in 1945 as seen on a period photo:

The building is on a bus terminal serving the area around Malmedy.
An impression of the building and surrounding area:


(click on the images to enlarge)

August 25th, 2012 UPDATE:
We have visited the combat scene once again and this time we took images of the most likely escape route of the American survivors from "B" Battery,  285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion.

 

(click on the images to enlarge)
1) 2) 3)
4) 5) 6)

 

1&2) Standing on the opposite (west) side of the massacre field.
3&4)
Further up the sloping hills away from the road junction with the Bodarwe Cafe.
5) Battle Detective Kees in the pasture looking down East towards the N62 Highway.
The Baugnez Malmedy Massacre Museum is just to the right.
6)
A rural road, locally known as "Houyire" looking west and away from the massacre field.
According to us this is the most likely escape direction of survivors of the Malmedy Massacre.
 

January 31st, 2014 UPDATE:
We are now convinced that some of our conclusions as published above are wrong.
After reading the 2012 book named "Fatal Crossroads, the untold story of the Malmedy Massacre at the Battle of
the Bulge", by Danny S. Parker we are convinced that the Malmedy Massacre was not a "battlefield incident" in
the heat of combat but deliberate murder.
The following summary of Parker's investigation in the book's  Appendix IV "Malmedy: in search of the truth",
pages 278 to 280, proves this.
 

"Combat Scene Investigation.
A German witness points towards SS-men during a line-up on the site of the massacre. 
An American Military Police man takes notes.

"The [...] possibility [...] the most likely for this author - is that a deliberate battlefield decision was made to execute the prisoners. This likely resulted from Peiper's orders for maximum speed combined with the difficulty of evacuating the large number of GIs without a loss to the striking power of the spearhead.
       [...] As has been shown in the author's own research, it is quite true that a small group of three to four Americans attempted to flee the scene just as the first shots were fired. However much this behavior might complicate matters, the fact remains that the SS men on the halftracks in front of the Americans were sighting machine guns and preparing ammunition for the anticipated shooting to come. The execution detail was in its final stages - made crystal clear by the earlier failed attempt to train a halftrack-mounted 7.5-cm howitzer on the Americans to aid in their liquidation. Over a dozen American witnesses remembered how the enemy had strenuously endeavored to train the big gun on the men standing in the field. Others watched as machine guns were mounted on the side of the SPWs so their muzzles could be trained on the increasingly nervous crowd. Although charges of "poor military discipline" might be leveled, those few who ran were perceptive enough to recognize a fatal threat.  Two survived.

(click on the images to enlarge)
1)2)

1) Diagram of the massacre field from the Malmedy Massacre Investigation

2) Diagram from "Fatal Crossroads" with the names of the victims and the routes of the SS-killers.
(c) G.S. Gaadtstudio

  Two additional facts obliterate justification for Peiper's men's behavior at the Baugnez crossroads. First there is the fact that eighty men were shot down in addition to those few who tried to escape. Moreover, the bodies of some of these men were found frozen a month later, many with their hands still raised over their heads in the universal posture of surrender. The mass of Americans were brutally shot down by automatic weapons fire while massed in the field. Except for a few at the rear of the group, none of the others were moving or attempting to escape. Surely a single accidental trigger-happy pistol and machine gun would not fell eighty men and leave none wounded to be taken prisoner. And if the mass of Americans had all attempted to run, more than half the bodies would not have been found in a dense tangle of bunched-up corpses twenty yards from the road and compressed in an ellipse of death barely forty yards wide.
 
      Although a number of men were found away from the main mass of the bodies, by far the most frequent cause of death -as determined by autopsy- was from a point-blank shot to the head. These were largely men who lay in the field for an hour after the shooting before the attempt to escape after one survivor yelled, "Let's go!" German machine guns from Kurt Briesemeister's Panther Nr. 114 fired once more upon those who ran at that time. That tank had remained behind at the crossroads to repair track damage. [...]      
Three U.S. Army surgeons performed detailed autopsies on the dead men in the field in January 1945, revealing that many had been executed by shots to the head or neck shots so close that the autopsies revealed powder burns. To shoot a mass of unarmed prisoners must generally be considered a war crime. However, to shoot down a mass of prisoners and then move through the field to execute any surviving the first onslaught -and not take these prisoners- must be considered a war crime under every rational classification.

      As to the genesis of the SS decision to execute the prisoners, the most likely explanation is one of battlefield expediency. Then, too, there is the moribund ethos in Kampfgruppe Peiper. In Russia these men had long practiced a way of battle that had little value for enemy life. As all accounts agree, Peiper arrived on the scene with the prisoners being collected, but he was in a terrible hurry to attempt to capture the American headquarters just ahead in Ligneuville. To test Peiper's patience, there were also lollygagging SS troopers looting the American convoy and several broken down German armored vehicles. Peiper's armor had little infantry to spare to guard prisoners, and he made sure all under him knew that no delay would be tolerated. Peiper met Werner Poetschke at the crossroads and conferred in a heated encounter.
 
Their auspicious meeting took place moments before Peiper roared off behind the Mk V Panther of Arndt Fischer. In his wake he left the mass of American -prisoners standing with raised hands. Minutes later they were shot. Thus, Poetschke, on his own initiative, may have been the one who ordered the prisoners liquidated. There was also further aggravation for him - namely, the frustrating refusal from the Americans to drive the abandoned GMC trucks for the German column. The orders to shoot the Americans then moved from Poetschke to Max Beutner and Erich Rumpf, who were assigned to the 3rd and 9th Panzer Engineer Companies, respectively, and commanded the gun crews who were present on the armored halftracks there.
       However, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Peiper himself ordered Poetschke to have the American's shot before he departed the crossroads. Whereas many SS accounts lay the blame on ordering the shooting at the feet of Werner Poetschke - conveniently deceased in Hungary in 1945- it remains significant that before being brought to Schwaebisch Hall, Paul Zwigart, the driver in Diefenthal and Peiper's command halftrack, had something more to add.
       In a POW camp in Ebensee, Austria, in summer 1945 Zwigart confided to a doctor with the 7th Panzer Company that the orders for the shooting had come from Peiper himself."

CONCLUSION
With this publication, let there be no doubt as to the intentions of a deliberate murder on American Prisoners of War by the SS-men involved.
 



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