Two men of the 82nd Airborne Division bringing in a young German SS Trooper captured while on reconnaissance patrol outside Bra, between Malmedy and Marche on the northern flank of the salient - January 1945.
On December 17, 1944, while advancing rapidly near Malmedy, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, elements of the German 1st SS Panzer Division overpowered and captured lightly armed troops of the American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. Over 80 of the prisoners were subsequently executed by the SS troops. News of the massacre leaked out through survivors who had escaped, and frozen bodies of the victims were discovered a month later when the area was retaken by American forces. Following the end of World War II, several members of the SS unit were tried and convicted of war crimes in the Malmedy Massacre Trial.
On December 17, 1944, one day after the Battle of the Bulge began, members of Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion were taken prisoner by the 1st SS Panzer Division. One hundred twenty-three U.S. soldiers surrendered to the Germans near the small Belgian town of Malmedy.
And then they were shot. The Germans began killing the Americans indiscriminately. As vehicles in the division drove by they would shoot into the crowd of prisoners. Soldiers fired their rifles at the prisoners. As the Americans collapsed to the ground, the SS soldiers would walk along, looking for survivors, and shoot them in the head.
The shooting lasted one or two hours based on survivor accounts. The forty-three men who survived played dead, sometimes lying under the corpses of their battery mates. Charles Appman was one of those survivors. As he lay there, holding his breath so that no telltale steam would escape his nose and mouth, blood from his comrades dripped across him giving him the appearance of death. He was even able to lay motionless as a wounded prisoner who lay on top of him was executed.
Once it appeared that the Germans had left the area, Mr. Appman and his fellow soldiers fled the area. Ten more were killed in the escape as German infantry fired on them.
The horror was named “The Malmedy Massacre.” Eighty U.S. soldiers died that day. Their bodies lay buried in the snow for a month before the U.S. could regain the ground where the massacre took place*.
Seventy-one German soldiers and officers were tried for war crimes after the end of World War II. More than half were sentenced to death, but the sentences were later commuted. All of them men were then sent to prison and by 1956 each had been released.
Note: Joachim Peiper, the leader of the Panzer division, lived anonymously in France for decades before his identity was discovered. He was murdered and his home burned in July 1976. No one was ever arrested.
Charles Appman died on August 26, 2013 at the age of 94. He was one of the last living survivors of the Malmedy Massacre.
(Image of an unknown U.S. soldier killed in the Malmedy Massacre. This picture was taken on January 14, 1945 after the U.S. Army was able to reclaim the ground where the soldiers were killed. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia)
* Following the Malmedy Massacre some U.S. soldiers began killing German prisoners in retribution. The worst such incident occurred on January 1, 1945 when 25 German POWs were gunned down in the town of Chegnogne, Belgium. It was soon called the “Chegnogne Massacre.” The U.S. Army, following the actions at Chegnogne, issued explicit orders to take all SS prisoners alive for questions. Hitler, on the other hand, had explicitly ordered that no enemy soldiers be taken prisoner as the Battle of the Bulge began.
En route to front lines, beyond Malmedy, Belgium, American Infantrymen pause to rest. Left to right, Sgt. Lyle Greene, Rochester Minnesota, S/Sgt. Joseph DeMott, Greenwood, Ind., and Pfc. Fred Mozzoni, Chicago, Illinois. 12/29/44
A beaten and bloodied German Waffen-SS soldier is singled out after capture by U.S forces at a POW collection area and accused of taking part in the 17 December 1944 Malmedy Massacre, in which 84 American POWs were murdered by German soldiers of the 6th SS Panzer Army KampfgruppePeiper, part of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler near Malmedy, Belgium. Passau, Bavaria, Germany. May 1945.