Thursday, December 16, 2010

Today in History....

December 17, 1944....

Sixty-six years ago today, German forces under the command of SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiper fired on unarmed American Prisoners of War at a small crossroads near the town of Malmedy, Belgium. What happened that day, spread like wildfire through the US Army.   

Elements of the American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion were captured and the American prisoners were taken to a field, joined by others captured by the SS earlier in the day. About 120 men were gathered in the field, when, for reasons that remain unclear today, the SS troops suddenly fired with machine guns killing over 80 of their prisoners.  Those few who were able to survive headed into the woods and later into the safety of American lines at Malmedy or found shelter in local Belgian farms.

The first American units to arrive in the area were with the 30th Infantry Division, a former National Guard unit. It was not until January 13, 1945 that American forces recovered the bodies. Some were not found until the snows melted.

The massacre, as well as others committed by the same unit on the same day and on following days, was the subject of a war crimes trial after the war. From May 12 to July 16, 1946, 73 German soldiers of Kampfgruppe Peiper were put on trial for the murder of the American prisoners shot at Baugnez.

The death sentence was ordered for 43 of the defendants while 22 received life imprisonment. But because of issues with the trial, such as torture and other forms of maltreatment, all were eventually paroled

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