Massacre at Malmedy

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2010 by Travis Cody in

On 16 December 1944 the Germans launched their last major offensive of World War II, a massive push through the Ardennes designed to punch through Allied lines, cut off and destroy elements of four Allied armies, and ultimately capture the port of Antwerp.  Over 840,000 American, British, and Canadian troops were involved in the battle against the German Sixth SS Panzer Army, Fifth Panzer Army, Seventh Army, and Fifteenth Army.

The attack was designed to strike hard and move fast to secure bridges over the Meuse River, then to advance relentlessly. 

But American units in place, despite being caught off guard, put up a stubborn resistance.  They reluctantly gave ground, fighting fiercely to delay the German advance.  Traffic jams, poor traction on muddy roads, and fuel shortages further slowed the progress of the attack.

By 17 December, Standartenfuhrer Joachim Peiper's 1st SS Division Leibstrandarte tank division had stalled.  Peiper finally managed to break out toward Honsfeld.

An American convoy of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion got in the way.  They had only small arms and rifles, and were quickly overwhelmed and captured by the German tank division.

Peiper's column continued to advance, while the American prisoners were taken to a field near Malmedy.  Accounts vary as to how many prisoners were taken, but there is no disputing that while those men stood together in the field, the Germans trained machines guns on them and opened fire.

Some men ran as the first shots were fired and managed to escape into the surrounding woods.  Ultimately, as many as 88 bodies were recovered.  About 40 men survived, and their accounts corroborated the story of the unprovoked murder of unarmed prisoners.  Autopsies showed that in addition to being riddled with bullets, some bodies had single gunshot wounds or blunt force trauma to the head, indicating that some Germans made certain any survivors of the initial shooting were dead.

The trials conducted in 1945 at Dachau alleged that more than three hundred American POWs and about 100 Belgian civilians were murdered during the entire Battle of the Bulge.  There were 73 German defendants indicted for these crimes, including General Sepp Dietrich (commander of Sixth SS Panzer Army), General Fritz Kramer (chief of staff), Lt General Hermann Priess (commander of I SS Panzer Corps), and Peiper.

Deliberations returned 43 death sentences, 22 life sentences, two 20 year prison sentences, one 15 year prison sentence, and five 10 year prison sentences.  None of the death sentences were carried out.  Most of them were commuted to life in prison.  All of those convicted were out of prison by 1956 after appeals and investigations found improprieties in the treatment of the accused and in the trial proceedings.

This is the memorial at Baugnez near Malmedy.  Each victim is represented by a black stone.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Have you ever thought about writing a book on WWII? I think with all you know/research you could write a compelling story.

  1. I don't suppose I will ever entirely understand the legal system. Procedural improprieties don't change the facts. There are still dead bodies, there are still witnesses, and the guilty are still guilty.

  1. Akelamalu says:

    Justice isn't always justice is it? :(

  1. Trav,a great posting indeed.

  1. I did not know this story...Thanks for sharing Travis...what a travesty

  1. by that time discipline had really started breaking down in the German army because of the push to get more troops into battle when Germany was almost bled white already. Part of Hitler's push for total war I guess. What a horrendous toll that war took and so upsetting that pows were massacered like that.