Sunday, December 17, 2017


Crossroads, Baugnez, Belgium
(Google Streetview)
We'd planned it for a few days, our colonel gave us the go ahead for Thursday, the 17th of December, as it was the only day the three of us, all Air Force sergeants, could get away from the job. We all had plans for Christmas, but we had been wanting to do this since the three of us had visited Waterloo together. I, the amateur historian, would again be the guide.

For we were off to the Ardennes, at the same time of year when the battle took place, December. But while it had been cold, wet, snowy, and muddy in 1944, it was a bright winter's day when we crossed the border from Germany into Belgium, at the Wahlerscheid crossroads in 1998. A place known to the 2nd Infantry Division as "Heartbreak Crossroads," for it was there that the 2nd was engaged in a bitter fight to seize the crossroads just before the Battle of the Bulge began.

As the bitter fighting was going on, further south the Germans were launching their offensive, General Omar Bradley had no other option but to order the 2nd to break off their attack and fall back to the Elsenborn Ridge. The men of the 2nd were not happy with that.

What the crossroads look like now.
(Google Streetview)
What the crossroads looked like in February 1945.
We had come down from the top of the picture and turned down the road running to the left.
Our route took us through the twin villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath, where the 99th Infantry Division had its bitter fight against the attacking Germans, on through Büllingen*, Bütgenbach, and Waimes, all towns which had seen the Germans retreat in the fall of 1944, good riddance the Belgians no doubt thought. Now the Nazis were back, and the Americans didn't seem to be able to stop them.

Our path into Belgium.
(Google Maps)
You'll note that marker on the map, just to the west and south a bit from Waimes, we arrived there probably around ten in the morning on the 17th of December. Fifty-four years earlier, two units met in the vicinity of that marker on the map, at the crossroads of Baugnez, then just a few houses, now larger, but still a small town.

A convoy of trucks and other vehicles of B Battery of the 258th Field Artillery Observation Battalion were negotiating the crossroads on their way to St. Vith (which lies further to the south on the map above). There they were fired upon by elements of a battle group (Kampfgruppe) from the 1st SS Panzer Division under the command of SS Lieutenant Colonel Joachim** Peiper.
Between noon and 1 pm, the German spearhead approached the Baugnez crossroads, two miles south-east of Malmedy. An American convoy of about thirty vehicles, mainly elements of B Battery of the American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, was negotiating the crossroads and turning right toward Ligneuville and St. Vith, where it had been ordered to join the 7th Armored Division. The spearhead of Peiper’s group spotted the American convoy and opened fire, immobilizing the first and last vehicles of the column and forcing it to halt. Armed with only rifles and other small arms, the Americans surrendered to the German tank force.

The armoured column led by Peiper continued west toward Ligneuville. The German troops left behind assembled the American prisoners in a field along with other prisoners captured earlier in the day. Many of the survivors testified that about 120 troops were standing in the field when, for unknown reasons, the SS troops suddenly opened fire with machine guns on the prisoners. Several POWs later testified that a few of the prisoners had tried to escape, and others claimed that some prisoners had picked up their previously discarded weapons and shot at the German troops when they attempted to continue toward Ligneuville.

As soon as the SS machine gunners opened fire, the POWs panicked. Some tried to flee, but most were shot where they stood. Some dropped to the ground and pretended to be dead. SS troops walked among the bodies and shot any who appeared to be alive. A few sought shelter in a café at the crossroads. The SS soldiers set fire to the building and shot any who tried to escape. (Source)
When we were there, it was apparent that we had missed a memorial service earlier that morning. There were fresh wreathes and flowers placed around the memorial (seen in the opening photo.) Whereas we'd been having a good time, laughing, and generally enjoying ourselves on the trip so far, our visit to Baugnez was sobering. We went silent and began to read the names on the wall at the back of the memorial. (It's worth noting that the massacre actually took place across the road to the right of the memorial. See the next photo.)

Where the massacre took place, across the street and up from the memorial site.
(Google Streetview)
The men who were murdered by the SS were fellows probably not much different from us, though most of them were probably a lot younger as the three of us were all fairly senior sergeants with at least 15 years of service under our belts. But they had sworn the same oath that we had, saluted the same flag, came from the same sort of towns and cities that we came from.

We got to go home.

They didn't.

Seventy-three years ago, 84 American soldiers were murdered by the Nazis.***

Remember them...
  • PVT Donald Bloom
  • CPL Joseph A. Brozowski
  • T/5 Samuel P. Burkett
  • PFC L.M.Burney
  • PFC Homer S.Carson
  • PFC Robert Cohen
  • T/5 John D. Collier
  • PFC Howard C. Desch
  • PVT William J. Dunbar
  • CPL Carl B.Fitt
  • PFC Donald P.Flack
  • PFC Carl B. Frey
  • SSGT Donald E.Geisler
  • 1LT Carl R. Genthner
  • CPL Sylvester V.Herchelroth
  • 2LT Lloyd A.Iames
  • CPL Ralph J.Indelicato
  • CPL Raymond E.Lester
  • T/4 Selmer H.Leu
  • SGT Benjamin Lindt
  • T/5 James E. Luers
  • CPL Lawrence Martin
  • 1LT Thomas E.McDermott
  • CPL Halsey J.Miller
  • CAPT Roger J.Mills
  • PVT Keston E. Mullen
  • 1LT John S. Munzinger
  • PFC Thomas W. Oliver
  • PFC Paul L.Paden
  • PVT Peter R.Phillips
  • PVT Stanley F. Piasecki
  • CPL Carl H.Rullman
  • T/5 Max Schwitzgold
  • PVT Wayne L.Scott
  • T/4 Irwin M.Sheets
  • PVT John M.Shingler
  • CPL Carl M.Stevens
  • T/5 Luke S.Swartz
  • PFC Elmer W.Wald
  • T/5 Dayton E.Wusterbarth
  • PFC Warren Davis
  • PVT Walter J.Perkowski
  • T/4 John M.Rupp Jr.
  • T/5 Carl H.Blough
  • PVT Paul R. Carr
  • PFC John Klukavy
  • PFC Richard B.Walker
  • T/5 Charles R.Breon
  • T/5 Howard W.Laufer
  • SSGT John D.Osborne
  • PFC John J.Clymire
  • T/5 Charles F.Haines
  • T/5 George R.Rosenfeld
  • PFC Frederick Clark
  • PVT James H. Coates
  • PVT John H.Cobbler
  • SGT Walter A.Franz
  • 2LT Solomon S. Goffman
  • PVT Samuel A.Hallman
  • T/5 Wilson M.Jones Jr.
  • CPL Oscar R.Jordan
  • T/5 Alfred Lengyel Jr.
  • T/3 James G.McGee
  • TSGT William T.McGovern
  • CPL David T.O'Grady
  • PVT Gilbert R.Pittman
  • 1LT Perry L.Reardon
  • PVT Oscar Saylor
  • SGT Robert J.Snyder
  • SGT Alphonse J.Stabulis
  • T/4 George B.Steffy
  • T/5 Thomas F.Watt
  • T/5 Vester H.Wiles
  • T/4 Allen M.Lucas
  • T/5 Robert L.McKinney
  • CPL William H.Moore
  • TSGT Paul G.Davidson
  • PFC Charles E.Hall
  • SGT Alfred Kinsman
  • PFC David M.Murray
  • PVT Elwood E.Thomas

* A massacre of American POWs by Peiper's battle group took place here as well, on the same day but before the one at Baugnez. There was yet another on the 17th at Wereth, where 11 African-American soldiers were murdered.
** Joachim was Peiper's given name, he didn't like it as it sounded "too Jewish," so he preferred Jochen, which sounded more Aryan to him. Nazi bastard.
*** This list only has 81 names, I cannot find a better list, I got this one from here.


  1. Thank you for the reminder of that event. I shall always remember this and the other outright murders that are known from that and other wars. War, itself, is bad enough; these sort of actions are a whole other level of evil.

    Paul L. Quandt

  2. I need to do my yearly watching of Battleground.

    My first grown-up job was on the second shift, cleaning machinery in a plastics plant. This was when they were holding the My Lai courts-martials. There was a man on the shift who, at the lunch break, said that he had been a tanker in Europe during the war. Some Germans were surrendering to them. Their platoon commander got out of his tank to accept their surrender. A German shot and killed the lieutenant. The tankers shot all of the surrendering Germans and then shot every German they saw for the next three weeks.

    Bad shit happens in war. Some of it is heat of the moment. Some thigns are revenge. And some are simply murder.

    Malmedy was murder. Peiper should have been hung.

    1. Excellent movie!

      Indeed, Peiper should have hanged.

    2. After Malmedy, there were many US Army units that, upon capturing a German, would rip his shirt open, ( The SS tattooed the SS man's blood type on his chest ). If they found a tattoo, they killed him.

    3. The blood group tattoo was actually on the inside of the bicep on the left arm.

      Hard to hide having that.

  3. In the 70's, I forget which year, Peiper was executed at night, in his home, by persons unknown. The crime has never been solved, the actors never claimed responsibility. Rumor Control said retired US infantry, others said Mossad. Who knows. The manner of his death clearly indicated retribution.

    1. Yup, at his home in France, of all places.

      It was definitely revenge, some say the French did it, others, well, your suggestions make more sense than many.

  4. Peiper's murder was discovered after his villa had been set on fire. Normally one would assume that such a fire would be set to cover up the murder, but responding firefighters reported seeing road signs pointing to the house with "Peiper SS" written on them. Who killed him? Hard to tell. Whatever investigation there was appeared to have been handled locally and rather quietly. One gets the sense of an exorcism--the banishment of an unwelcome wartime ghost in a part of Europe with too many of those already....

    BTW, this is Blogger Jenk--funny things going on with the 'puter, kittens and keyboards may have been involved....

    1. I really believe everyone wanted Peiper to "go away", including the Germans.

  5. Charles Whiting wrote Massacre at Malmedy. He's written extensively about WWII and the Ardennes Offensive--one of his titles is Death of a Division which I believe was about the 106th ID. He's an author I recommend....

    1. I have a couple of his books, I've read a couple more.

      Death of a Division is indeed about the 106th, the "Golden Lions." They were cut off and surrounded at the beginning of the Bulge in the Schnee Eifel, a place I've been to. Worst mass surrender of American troops ever.

  6. I think he also wrote [i]Das Reich[/i], about the 2nd SS Panzer Division's march from southern France to Normandy in response to OVERLORD. It was during that march that the massacres of French civilians at Oradour sur Glane and Tulle took place. The SS troops that fought in Normandy and in the Ardennes were veterans of the Eastern Front where such outrages were quite commonplace--on both sides. It's worth noting that this casual attitude toward atrocities was not limited to just the SS but does seem to have been common in most German formations that saw extensive combat in Russia. That campaign was a horror most of us can only imagine in nightmares....

    1. Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944 was written by Max Hastings, another excellent British writer. Charles Whiting wrote a number of books for Ballantine as well, their violent century series. Hunters from the Sky about the German paras was a good one.

      The Eastern Front brutalized both sides, but some formations were prone to that behavior to begin with.

  7. Hastings--thanks for the correction, I sometimes get my authors mixed up. As a kid I collected the violent century books; I still have a few battered copies. They came out in the '70s and I always had my eye out for new ones....

    The SS formations were always more inclined toward massacres on both fronts; prior to the invasion of Russia the Totenkopf Division massacred a number of British POWs at Le Paradis in 1940. They never made it back to the Western Front, not that it mattered much....

    1. I have a bunch of those books.

      Right, it was Totenkopf at Le Paradis. A formation that claimed to be "separate" from the SS-Totenkopfverbände but personnel were rotated between the concentration camps and the division. Not separate at all really.

  8. Apparently it wasn't just the SS-Totenkopfverbande that practiced that sort of rotation; I recall reading that other Waffen-SS formations did the same to a limited degree with soldiers recovering from wounds and some disciplinary cases....

    As for the Totenkopf Division itself, it was commanded by the same man who initially oversaw the camp guards, Theodor Eicke, until his death in Russia in early 1943. The split, such that it was, was almost a distinction without a difference....

  9. Whiting wrote, as I recall, that Peiper was in good spirits that day and jokingly heckled the assembled group of captured GIs as he drove past. He allegedly yelled out that "It really is a long way back to Tipperary!" and then drove off with the rest of his lead vehicles; he probably never saw those men again. A Romanian Volksdeutsche soldier identified as Georg Phelps later walked up to the men and began randomly shooting them with his pistol; apparently at that time other soldiers in the passing column opened fire with their own weapons.

    Peiper was an experienced soldier who had a mission with a tight deadline and it's doubtful he would have "dallied" in that fashion, but it's clear he had no problem with his men doing so either as long as they didn't slow down. As the unit commander he was ultimately responsible....

    1. Precisely, with command comes responsibility. Of course, those men were used to operating that way in the East.

  10. The other SS officer who became infamous during the Battle of the Bulge was Otto Skorzeny, who led a team of infiltrators dressed as GIs in order to create confusion behind the American lines ahead of the German advance. Some of those men were reasonably proficient in English, but nowhere near able to pass as Americans in more than a brief exchange. I remember a trio of them were captured and shot by firing squad as spies/saboteurs; we forget these days that this was an appropriate penalty for not fighting under the designated (or any) uniform.

    Skorzeny's men succeeded in creating suspicion and confusion but not enough to influence the ultimate outcome of the battle. This was the operation that made him known to Americans, but his greatest successes were at Gran Sasso and Budapest....

    1. Ah yes, Skorzeny and Unternehmen Greif. Didn't go as planned but did cause panic as far back as Paris where Eisenhower's security guys had him covered, much to his annoyance, like a blanket.

      I've read a couple of books on Skorzeny, quite the character. Lived out his days in Spain after the war didn't he?

    2. Do you have sources for that proteus?

    3. Sadly no
      I remember distinctly that although he resided in Spain and Hispanic speaking countries- his exploits today verge on myth- during his last years he was supposed to have relocated in Portugal due to lack of extradition policy on their part
      Plus the rumor that he was active on mercenary operations on Portuguese speaking territories
      interesting read, though with a pinch of salt

    4. I'd heard that he'd worked with the Egyptian military and possibly the Israelis as well, perhaps not knowing that.

      An interesting guy, thanks for the link ,I shall peruse that when I get a chance. A quick glance and it looks interesting.

  11. It's worth noting that while the Germans created a considerable breakthrough in the Ardennes (hence "The Bulge") they did so by stripping away troops and tanks badly needed on the Eastern Front. The Ardennes offensive petered out rather quickly despite some tough battles, but the Americans and British rallied quickly and counterattacked. In January 1945 the Russians launched a major offensive that brought them within striking distance of Berlin by the time it hit the culminating point.

    IMO it's doubtful that the Ardennes Offensive had any chance of reversing the fact that Germany had lost the war; Hitler's reasoning that he could somehow create a rift between the Allies was pure fantasy. I think most of the military officers involved in planning the offensive understood that, but they also understood their own personal risk after the failure of Von Stauffenberg's plot. Still, the Germans would have ended the war better holding off the Russians while the Western Allies finished them off, but Hitler would permit no such logic....

    1. I have to believe that Hitler had in mind the "miracle" that "saved" Prussia in 1759 after the battle of Kunersdorf, which the Prussians lost, when the Russians and Austrians didn't follow up. It was known as the First Miracle of the House of Brandenburg, the Second was in 1761 when Frederick's most hated foe, Elizabeth of Russia died.

      Hitler was a devotee of Frederick the Great and there were those in his entourage who encouraged him in his delusions.

      The Ardennes Offensive shortened the war. For the Allies. As Patton allegedly said, "Hell, let's have the guts to let the sons of bitches go all the way to Paris, then we'll really cut 'em off and chew 'em up!" Patton thought big.

  12. Not sure if he lived out the rest of his life in Spain, but Skorzeny did survive the war. By all accounts he was rather genial in person, quite friendly and charming, but professionally was very daring and ruthless. He could easily have been considered a Nazi James Bond, and one wonders how much of Fleming's character was based on him.

    An incident in his life I recall was that after Stauffenberg's assassination attempt on Hitler failed Colonel Olbricht at the War Ministry quickly had Stauffenberg and other conspirators summarily shot; Skorzeny rather archly commented that Olbricht was in a hurry to get Stauffenberg underground and deflect attention away from himself....

    1. Skorzeny died in Madrid in 1975. They wanted to prosecute him at Nuremberg for having his troops wear American uniforms over their German uniforms in the Bulge. Until a British officer testified on Skorzeny's behalf that Allied troops had done the same. (That officer was F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas, aka "The White Rabbit.")

  13. There's an irony to that testimony by Thomas, except that it pertains to the Pacific War. The US Navy was quite prepared to crucify the commander of the USS Indianapolis but at his court-martial important mitigating testimony was provided by the commander of the Japanese submarine that sank his ship....

    1. There was an honorable man, that sub captain.

    2. INDIANAPOLIS was a Treaty Coffin, and, indeed, for a large part of her life was considered a 8" armed Light Cruiser. INDIANAPOLIS was outfitted as a fleet flagship, with extensive communications facilities, ( which is of no help when the torpedo blows out the entire electrical system ), so she would have had a critical role in OPERATION DOWNFALL, the invasion of Japan. US Navy tactical doctrine required that "Major Fleet Assesets" should have 4 escorts.

      Now I want to know why a CA like her, full of radio equipment, and a favorite of Spruance, was sailing alone. The answer, of course, is A), she could go like a scalded cat, and B) we were winning the war at that time. But I still want to know why no one asked why she didn't have, say a pair of MAHANs riding shotgun on her. MAHANs were surplus to requirements at that time, as not having MK 37/22 directors, and weight available for 40mm Bofors, they were not capable of surviving the front lines anymore. But they would have still been capable of ASW warfare, and might have kept the sub from attacking, and certainly would have saved hundreds of lives. i suspect at least part of why Captain McVay was court martialed was to keep people from asking that question.

    3. Spot on Scott. Overconfidence at that point in the war is probably the answer, as you point out.

  14. As I've gotten older perhaps I've become more cynical, and one of the things I've become cynical about is "war crimes trials". I don't doubt that war crimes exist, but I question civilian notions of jurisprudence being extended to warfare, a state outside of such jurisprudence....

    1. Things happen in war which civilians will never understand. But there has to be something akin to justice.

      I'm thinking of the war crimes trial of General Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya. A travesty of "justice."

  15. Hell is too good for those SS members. We have tons of WWII movies, but few about the aftermath. Not quite as compelling I suppose. I think I remember hearing something about a movie coming that deals with the Nuremburg Trials. I will definitely see it.

    1. There have been a couple, Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) springs immediately to mind.

      Concur on your first sentence. Absolutely.

  16. I just finished reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky.
    It stretches the imagination a little considering all of the characters exploits, but shows just how much war affects folks.

  17. RE the Indianapolis--she was under radio silence orders even after the bomb was delivered to Guam and she was ordered to the Philippines. She was in "safe waters" past the "chop line", a line beyond which there were no Japanese naval forces operating. The sub commander was for all practical purposes sent on a suicide mission behind American lines to intercept a ship intelligence told him was carrying an unknown top secret weapon; he successfully sank the ship (after the bomb had been unloaded) and managed to escape with his boat and his crew; they ended up as POWs when Japan surrendered.

    Once the bomb was unloaded at Guam the radio silence order should have been lifted; the Indianapolis was just another warship transiting from one station to another. The court-martial attempted to blame the commander for failing to take evasive action where none was at least officially needed; his hands were then tied by an unnecessary order that cost the lives of many sailors who would otherwise have been rescued. The Navy brass was trying to cover up their own failure. They got what they wanted in the end, I suppose. The last casualty of the Indianapolis was her captain, who joined his crew by his own hand years later....

    1. The flags screwed the pooch on that count, Indy and her crew paid the price.

  18. "Things happen in war which civilians will never understand. But there has to be something akin to justice."

    There is, but it often has nothing to do with jurisprudence. Sometimes it's just fate. Peiper served 10 years for crimes that his contemporaries got away with; that to me is unfair. He was murdered by those same contemporaries it seems, and to me that seems fair. Law and justice are not necessarily the same....

    1. Law and justice occasionally intersect.



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