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Waffen SS Combat Group Peiper Attacks

Mark has a BA from the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville).

A Ghost Army

Although the German armed forces along the Western Front had suffered traumatic defeats, Von Rundstedt's command nevertheless began to build up a strategic reserve which he called the Sixth SS Panzer Army. It was supplied with Germany's best tanks straight from the factories, which included new Panthers and King Tiger tanks.

The most experienced of the SS troops and Panzer Grenadiers, along with the highest quality of equipment, were fed into its ranks as the new army was kept hidden behind the front. The Sixth SS Panzer Army was at first designed to counterattack any determined Allied breakthrough into Germany. But once it became clear that the Allies were going to maintain their policy of mounting no concentrated spearhead, Hitler began to make his own plans for the future of his new army.

Adolf Hitler's plan of attack in the Ardennes in 1944 was one of the most imaginative and daring proposals of the entire Second World War. He was determined to slip his fresh Sixth SS Panzer Army straight through the Ardennes Forest, then cross the Meuse River, swiftly strike toward Brussels and capture the ports at Antwerp.

If his plan succeeded, Eisenhower's forces would be cut in half and isolated from the Allied troops in France. Four Allied armies would be trapped in Holland and Belgium, similar to what happened in May 1940, which led to the British defeat at Dunkirk.

With the capture of Antwerp, the trapped American and British armies had no escape route by the sea. The only means of escape would be to fight their way south into France, abandoning their vast system of fuel dumps and stores of guns, tanks, workshops and men. Hitler even had some doubt as to whether the trapped armies would even put up much resistance.

Hitler began to move on with his plan in early September 1944; many of his generals were very concerned that the attack was much too ambitious. Rundstedt wanted a shallower attack with the goal of taking back Aachen from Patton's Third Army.

Hitler's intelligence was excellent; German agents left behind in France, Belgium, and Holland were providing him with a constant stream of good intelligence. He knew mostly where every Allied division was placed in the Ardennes.

By December 1944, it was clear that in the Ardennes-Luxembourg sector, the Americans had placed only four divisions to defend an eighty-mile front. Two of the American divisions were fresh from America, and the other two were being refitted after receiving action in the bloody battle for Hurtgen Forest.

The final plan for Hitler's offensive was to advance along a sixty-mile front from Mundschau in the north, some twenty miles southeast of Aachen, to the medieval town of Echternach in the south, downstream from the juncture of the Our and Sure Rivers.

Sepp Dietrich's Sixth SS Panzer Army would lead the northern attack. He planned to take the same path Erwin Rommel's division took in May 1940, bypassing opposition and quickly crossing the Meuse River. Once the Sixth SS Panzer Army crossed the Meuse River it would make a mad dash toward the channel coast to cut off all Allied armies north of their lines.

Before Hitler could attack in the Ardennes, he needed to solve the enormous problems of amassing the men and material for his new offensive under the British and American Air Force's watchful eye.

As he set hiding in his secret headquarters surrounded by his loyal SS bodyguards deep in East Prussia, he began realizing the total cost of his megalomania, which had already led to the bloodiest war in human history.

In five horrific years of warfare the German Army had lost over 3,500,000 men killed, wounded or missing.

Most of Germany's finest units had been lost to Hitler's past overly ambitious campaigns. German cities were now reduced to piles of rubble and hundreds of thousands of his citizens reduced to ashes. Its war industries, communications, rail lines and highway transport were constantly being disrupted by Allied bombing.

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In order to build his new army Hitler ordered the German General Staff to eliminate almost all non-combat jobs. Hitler ruthlessly recruited the young and old for his next campaign. All men between 16 and 60 years of age were declared eligible for military services, and many airmen and sailors, who had been left idle by the many heavy losses of planes and ships, were now transferred to the Army.

Most of the younger able-bodied men produced from all these sources were to form 25 new divisions, which Hitler named Volk grenadiers (Peoples Infantry). Each of these units were smaller than the average German infantry division, but to offset this weakness they were equipped with larger numbers of automatic weapons and Panzerfausts (Rocket-Firing Anti-Tank Weapons).

Movement to the assembly areas before the offensive in the Ardennes was mostly by rail. The trains, hidden in tunnels or forest during the day, moved at night to the appointed areas, unloaded quickly and returned for another load before daylight. So effective were the precautions before the attack German losses to Allied air attacks were slight.

The Battle of the Bulge

Map showing the swelling of "the Bulge" as the German offensive progressed creating the nose-like salient during 16–25 December 1944. Peiper's battle group was located in the north part of the bulge.

Map showing the swelling of "the Bulge" as the German offensive progressed creating the nose-like salient during 16–25 December 1944. Peiper's battle group was located in the north part of the bulge.

Noted for his fighting spirit and aggressive leadership in battle, tank commander Peiper's victories came at the cost of many German tanks and casualties among Waffen-SS.

Noted for his fighting spirit and aggressive leadership in battle, tank commander Peiper's victories came at the cost of many German tanks and casualties among Waffen-SS.

Peiper Attacks

Sixth SS Panzer Army made up of nine divisions was the most powerful force the German Army could put on the battlefield in the fall of 1944. One its best panzer divisions was considered Hitler's most loyal, the 1st SS Panzer Division (Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler).

It first began its service as Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard, responsible for guarding the Führer's person, offices, and residences. Initially the size of a regiment, the LSSAH (Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler) eventually grew into an elite division-sized unit.

This elite unit shared an infamous reputation, like its leader, of being fearless in battle, and also for disregarding the commonly accepted rules of war. While fighting on the Eastern Front men of the 1st SS once executed an estimated 4,000 Russian prisoners in retaliation for the killing of six captured SS men by Russian secret police.

In the Ardennes the 1st LSSAH Panzer Division fought with another notorious division, the 12th SS Hitler Youth Division, which murdered 64 Canadian and British prisoners during the battle for Normandy. Hitler Youth divisions were made up of children as young as sixteen or seventeen years old and were Hitler's most loyal and fanatical troops. They had been indoctrinated by Nazi propaganda from birth.

The northern breakthrough was critically important to the success of the entire German offensive. Without German control of the Elsen born Ridge, and the Malmedy road, they couldn't stop American reinforcements from pouring down from the north to stop the German advance toward Antwerp.

The northern spearhead would be commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Joachim Peiper, who at one time was Heinrich Himmler's personal adjutant. At 29, Peiper was one of the youngest and best regimental commanders in the German Army. He possessed the kind of fanaticism that Hitler admired in a leader. For the Ardennes offensive, Peiper's 5,000-man regiment was reinforced with 42 mammoths, the 57-ton King Tiger tank, and a battalion of Panther and Mark IV tanks, bringing the total tank strength of his regiment to over 120 tanks.

Peiper did not receive a formal briefing on the offensive until two days before it was set to begin. He was very concerned about the very rugged route his regiment was to take in their advance. Peiper bitterly remarked his route of attack was better suited for bicycles, not tanks. The briefing also produced another piece of very disturbing news. Two trainloads of gasoline set aside for the 1st LSSAH Panzer Division had failed to arrive, so his troops would have to depend on captured American gasoline to fuel their advance.

According to German intelligence the best chance to locate American fuel dumps were in the towns of Bullingen, and Spa, both of which were close to route of Peiper's advance.

On the first day of the attack Peiper's battlegroup was slowed by a massive traffic jam due to narrow roads and destroyed bridges. He finally got his column moving after midnight on the first day of the attack. As Peiper's tanks rolled into Lazerath, Belgium, he met with the leader of a German parachute regiment who had been dropped behind enemy lines to help aid his advance.

Peiper quickly realized that the paratroop commander was a Luftwaffe colonel who knew little about infantry tactics. He stormed out of the room taking command of the paratroops and led the attack into Buchholz. With paratroops riding along on top of his tanks the town was taken without a shot fired.

As Peiper's combat group advanced past Buchholz he found the road jammed with retreating American vehicles. He simply followed the retreating American convoy into the next village, Honsfeld, catching Americans there completely by surprise.

Following Hitler's orders in retaliation for Allied bombing, Peiper's troops murdered dozens of American troops sending shock through the American ranks. Peiper's troops rounded up over 200 prisoners. As his men moved them toward the rear, a German tank opened fire on them. When it was all over, nineteen Americans were dead. Many more Americans were murdered in the Honsfled area.

Peiper's tanks had only advanced little more than twenty miles burning up a lot of irreplaceable gasoline idling their engines while waiting to achieve their initial breakthrough. Peiper then raced toward Bullingen, Belgium to refuel his tanks at the American supply dump located near the little village. His tanks pushed onto a small landing field used by American artillery-observation planes and captured some 50,000 gallons of fuel.

About 30 American soldiers were lined up and shot after they refueled his tanks and armored vehicles. Another group of about a dozen soldiers were shot with their hands over their heads as they marched toward the rear. But the worst was yet to come.

Peiper Begrhoff 1940

Joachim Peiper at the Berghoff 1940. The Berghof was Adolf Hitler's vacation home in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany,

Joachim Peiper at the Berghoff 1940. The Berghof was Adolf Hitler's vacation home in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany,

Massacre at Malmedy

By midday December 17,1944, Peiper's combat group was approaching the crossroads hamlet of Baugnez, Belgium two and a half miles south of Malmedy. The roads were log jammed with American vehicles traveling in all directions. From the smashed front line came American trucks, jeeps, and staff cars heading westward, fleeing the advancing Germans.

At the same time, American combat units with tanks and infantry sent to restore order were swimming against the tide, fighting to advance eastward to stop the Germans. One of these units sent forward to stop the German advance was 140 men of Battery B of the 28th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, it was making its way from Hurtgen Forest in the north to the town of Vielsalm, five miles to the south of Peiper's route of advance.

The American convoy rolled into Baugnez, Belgium running headlong into Peiper's advance guard. Peiper's column opened fire on the soldiers and vehicles of Battery B with cannon and machine guns as the two columns advanced upon each other.

It was bad timing for the outgunned American soldiers in Battery B as they scrambled to take cover in a ditch, and the rest made a mad dash for the nearby woods. The soldiers in the ditch, hopelessly outnumber and outgunned, were quickly surrounded. They crawled out of the ditch with their hands above their heads. Over 120 Americans were taken prisoner by Peiper's men. They were roughly searched by a group of excited SS troopers, who took the Americans' watches, wallets, warm gloves and cigarettes.

While the Americans were being searched an SS soldier said in English, "First SS Panzer Division welcomes you to Belgium, gentlemen." The captured American soldiers became anxious once they noticed that the Germans' caps were lettered with the dreaded SS insignia, and some were decorated with a death's head.

Tanks and half-tracks of Peiper's combat group move up near the captured soldiers of the 285th Field Artillery and parked in the field near where they were gathered. Soon afterward the Germans opened fire on the Americans with machine guns, machine pistols, and other weapons. Once the firing stopped, SS officers and men walked among the lifeless bodies and pumped bullets into any Americans who showed any signs of life or crushed their heads in with rifle butts.

Sergeant Kenneth F. Ahrens would somehow escape the massacre with two other men and make it back to American lines. Accounts of the ghastly episode was soon reported to the commanding officer of the American 291st Division. The incident quickly came to be known as the "Malmedy Massacre".

News of the murders spread like a lightning bolt through the American lines. American defenses soon stiffened, and some units vowed that they would not take prisoners of soldiers who wore SS uniforms. Many German tankmen who had the death's head insignia on their tunics soon removed it to save themselves from a beating or even death if they were captured by American troops.

To Peiper's surprise American generals began to react quickly to his rapid advance. Troops from the American 1st & 9th Divisions attacked from Aachen and elite paratroops from the 82nd Airborne Division were trucked in to block his advance to the west.

To make matters worse American dive bombers, P-47 Thunderbolts, began to bomb and strafe his column, which created great anxiety among his SS troopers who had not experienced such air attacks even on the Eastern Front. Now American engineers began to blow up any bridge on Peiper's route to slow his advance and GIs near these bridges began to put up stiff resistance.

As Peiper's advance began to bog down soon his battlegroup was trapped and surrounded. Running out of petrol and ammunition Peiper was soon forced to breakout on foot and swim across the river Ambleve.

In the early morning on December 24,1944, with some 800 men, he crossed the river and trekked up through the thick woods. Peiper and his men withdrew down into the Salm valley and swam across an ice-cold river.

Troops from the I SS Panzer Corps reported Peiper's arrival on Christmas morning 1944. It was estimated that 2,500 members of his Combat Group had been killed and ninety-two tanks and assault guns had been destroyed.

The bad roads, destroyed bridges, lack of fuel and stiff American resistance would doom Peiper's chances of success in the Ardennes. Now it was up to the Fifth Panzer Army to save Hitler's hope for success in the Ardennes.

American engineers in the northern Ardennes would tip the scales in favor of the Allies, by destroying the bridges Peiper needed to cross in order to continue his drive for the Meuse River, leaving his battlegroup tapped in the small crossroads village of Trois-Ponts.

For Peiper his key hope for success was only one mile ahead, between the small lightly defended Belgian towns of Stavelot and Francorchamps. Between those two Belgian towns the Allies had stored a vast fuel dump the largest in western Europe, of more than 400,000 five-gallon jerry cans of gasoline, lined along five miles of roadway, more than enough fuel to get Peiper's battle group to Antwerp.

Peiper and his SS troops would leave behind a bloodstained trail of murdered American POWs. They would be linked to the "Malmedy Massacre" which proved to be a turning point in the Battle of the Bulge giving American solders not a step back mentality.

After the war Peiper was sentenced to 12 years in prison along with 1,000 other members of the 1st "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" soldiers for war crimes.

In 1972 Peiper would move to Traves in Haute-Saône, France, to work as a writer translating books from German to English. On July 14,1976, Peiper's house was firebombed by unknown assailants and died as a result of the fire. He had committed other war crimes during the Second World War but was never prosecuted due to lack of evidence.

Peiper on Trail

 On July 14,1976, Peiper's house was firebombed by unknown assailants and died as a result of the fire. He had committed other war crimes during the Second World War but was never prosecuted due to lack of evidence.

On July 14,1976, Peiper's house was firebombed by unknown assailants and died as a result of the fire. He had committed other war crimes during the Second World War but was never prosecuted due to lack of evidence.

Sources

Beevor, Anthony. Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge. Penguin Random House LLC, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014 USA. 2015

Ford Brian J. Secret Weapons: Technology, Science & The Race to Win World War II. Osprey Publishing, Midland House, West Way, Botley, Oxford, Ox2 OPH, UK 44-02 23rd Street, Long Island, New York, New York 11101 USA. 2011

Keegan, John. The Second World War. Penguin Random House LLC, 40 West 23rd Street, New York, New York 10010 USA. 1990

MacDonald Charles B. A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge. William Marrow And Company Inc, 105 Madison Ave, New York, New York 10016 USA. 1985

Mitcham, Samuel W. Hitler's Commanders Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc, 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham Maryland 20706 USA. 2012

Moorehead, Alan. Eclipse: An eye-witness account of the Allied invasion of Fortress Europe in World War II. Soho Press, Inc. 853 Broadway New York, New York 10003. 1999.

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