BA University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) Geography & History
In the early morning hours of December 16,1944, thousands of heavily armed German shock troops crept through the American lines.
They easily bypassed the sleepy American outposts penetrating deep behind their lines near the Belgium border before sunrise.
As they advanced the Germans cut any communication wires, they found along their paths to help further isolate the American troops.
Behind the shock troops German armored vehicles, including massive 60-ton tiger tanks, waited for the signal to advance. As the panzer divisions moved forward, they easily overwhelmed the weak American defenses.
This initial attack set in motion one of the last great land battles of the Second World War.
Nazi Germany's supreme leader, Adolf Hitler, gambled everything that the Americans were the weak link in the Allied coalition, the Italians of the Western Allies.
His plan was to exploit that weakness together with one of the worst winters on record in the mountains and forests of the Ardennes.
The low clouds and snow would take away the American's greatest asset, its overwhelming command of the air.
It would also add a chilling backdrop to a battle that would change world history.
One of America's greatest writers, J.D. Salinger, would become witness to one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.
He would only speak of the battle's horrors to his closest of friends, those who were there and managed to survive.
Salinger a member of the American Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps would never write about his wartime experiences due to the secrecy of his mission on the Western Front.
Before the Ardennes, Salinger somehow survived the Battle for the Hurtgen Forrest which was the longest battle on German soil in the Second World War.
The battle took place between September 19,1944 and December 16,1944.
Hitler would launch his new offensive along the Belgium and Luxemburg border with Germany at the exact location where Salinger and his fellow soldiers were licking the wounds after the battle for Hurtgen Forrest in which over 55,000 Americans were either killed or wounded.
German General Walter Model took full advantage of the geography and the fortifications along Siegfried Line to inflict what has been described as a defeat of the first magnitude on the American First Army.
Now Salinger would become involved in a battle for survival in an even bloodier battle where Hitler's main objective was to kill Americans.
There is no question Salinger's wartime experiences would affect his life, and his writing after the war.
Unlike many soldiers, Salinger was far from naïve about war.
In short stories he had already written while in the army, such as “Soft-Boiled Sergeant” and “Last Day of the Last Furlough,” he expressed disgust with the false idealism applied to combat, and attempted to explain that war was a bloody, inglorious affair.
But no amount of theoretical insight could have prepared him for what was to come. Salinger would count among his most treasured belongings a small casket containing his five battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for valor.
Becoming a recluse and living in the mountains of New Hampshire was possibly his way of coping with what horrors he had experience during the war. These horrors most possibly influenced his greatest work "The Cather in the Rye".
Near the end of the Second World War Salinger would spend time in an Army hospital suffering what at the time was termed "battle fatigue".
J.D. Salinger: Battle of the Bulge 1944
The Eagle's Nest
Safe underground in a bunker just a few miles from the battle zone, near the ancient Castle Kransberg, known as the Eagle's Nest Hitler, sat orchestrating the movement of his troops.
Kransberg castle had a storied past in the history of warfare. The structure dated back to the eleventh century. Its original foundation had been built on the top of the ancient ruins of a Roman ring-wall fortification.
Battles in that region had raged, on and off, since the birth of Christ. The Eagle's Nest, code name for Hitler's headquarters, sat in the middle of the Ardennes. It was a series of small cement bunkers at the edge of valley near the spa town of Bad Nauheim.
Close by batteries of Germany's deadly V-2 ballistic missiles with massive two-thousand-pound warheads, capable of destroying entire city blocks, were being made ready to launch.
It was a surreal moment in military, when V-2's engines lit up the early morning darkness revealing the ancient castle in the background as they raced toward outer space.
Hitler would use his V-2s, the world's first ballistic missile, to rain destruction and strike terror in the streets of Antwerp the ultimate goal of his offensive.
One month later on January 15,1945, with the war still winnable in his eyes, a delusional Adolf Hitler would board his armored train and began his nineteen-hour trip to Berlin.
He would spend the rest of his days trapped underground in the Fuhrer bunker located in central Berlin. As Allied bombers turned the city into a massive pile of rubble Hitler hid 28 feet below in his dank underground shelter.
On the home front to most Americans the war in Europe was over, most Allied leaders considered Germany defeated, virtually a house of cards on the verge of collapse.
To their surprise Adolf Hitler still considered the war still winnable. His last roll of the dice would take place in the remote forest of Belgium and Luxemburg.
Hitler's plan was to kill as many American soldiers as possible, fracturing the Allied line and destroying all Allied armies along the western border of Germany.
The counter-offensive would become known by several different names, but it became best known as the "Battle of the Bulge." A phrase given to it by the American press who described the attack by the way the Allied front bulged inward on wartime news maps.
Before the battle ended it would involve over 600,000 American soldiers of which some 89,000 would become casualties of war. Over 1600 American soldiers a day would die during the battle.
Hitler's goal for the attack was to split the British and American line in half and capture the strategically important port city of Antwerp. German armies would then proceed to encircle and Allied armies, forcing the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis Powers' favor. Afterward, Hitler could focus all his forces on the Red Army which was approaching the very gates of Berlin.
Castle Kransberg Adolf Hitler's Eagle's Nest on the Western Front
Waffen SS Troops Spearhead the Attack
Salinger Experiences "Total War"
In 1944 Hitler's armies were dealt a series of staggering defeats. In June 1944, 156,000 British, Canadian, and American troops successfully landed in France on the beaches of Normandy along the English Channel.
On D-day as Salinger landed on Utah Beach and had six unpublished Caulfield stories in his possession, stories that would form the spine of The Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger's experiences during the war gave his writing a depth and maturity it had lacked; the legacy of that experience is present even in work that is not about war at all. In later life, Salinger frequently mentioned Normandy, but he never spoke of the details— “as if,” his daughter later recalled, “I understood the implications, the unspoken.”
After meeting up with the regiment, Salinger would spend the next 26 days in combat. On June 6, the regiment had consisted of 3,080 men. By July 1, the number was down to 1,130.
Salinger would experience "Total War" where the laws of war are disregarded. He would become involved the most extreme form of warfare, where both sides were willing to make any sacrifice in lives for complete victory.
Hitler's battered legions were now faced with a two-front war. In the three months after the Normandy landings the Wehrmacht lost 589,425 men on the eastern front, and 156,726 in the west.
In the east, the Red Army crushed German Army Group Center in Operation Bagration forcing its armies to retreat westward over 300 miles to the gates of Warsaw putting the Soviets within striking distance of Berlin.
In the summer of 1944, the Soviet Union inflicted the most devastating defeat in German military history. By destroying 28 out of the 34 divisions which made up their Army Group Center, the Red Army completely shattered the German Eastern Front, killing or wounding around 450,000 German soldiers.
On the western front American General George S Patton's Third Army broke out of the Normandy bridgehead. He led an American style blitzkrieg through France, which would lead to the destruction of Germany's Western Front.
At the end of 1944, Hitler's armies were swept out of France leaving them with their backs against the Rhine the last natural obstacle before the Allied armies advanced into the heart of Germany.
Allied victory euphoria could not have been greater at the end of 1944.
The July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler gave an impression to his enemies that his government was at a point of near complete collapse. In the Berlin railway stations dissidents were so angry that they blatantly put-up banners demanding peace at any price.
In the United States military contractors were cancelling contacts for artillery shells.
Hitler's paranoia reached new heights after the attempt on his life. He no longer trusted his generals treating most of them with utter disgust.
Over 4,980 Germans would be implicated in the plot and sentenced to death in show trials.
Erwin Rommel one of Germany's most respected military leaders would be forced to take cyanide for his role in the assassination attempt.
Hitler's life was saved by a thick wooden conference table and a last-minute decision to have the meeting in an open-air meeting room. He was not to be seen in public again and all of his contact with the German people was made through recorded radio messages.
Many German citizens believed Hitler could possibly already be dead. When Hitler met with his generals, he was now surrounded by his SS bodyguards who made sure none of them posed any threat to their leader. The atmosphere in Hitler's command bunker was overwhelmingly dark and gloomy.
The Fall of Adolf Hitler
D-Day Tuesday: June 6 1944
The Destruction of German Cities
Rundstedt's Defensive Plan
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt found himself in overall command of Germany's troops along its western border in the fall and winter of 1944-45.
Just four years earlier he had commanded Army Group B in the invasion of France. The invasion had become the classic model for the art of Lighting War (Blitzkrieg).
In 1940 his army group contained two-thirds of all the tanks used in the invasion of France. His tanks led the breakout at Sedan which shattered the Allied front. The fall of France was the highwater mark for Nazi Germany.
Now the situation had completely reversed, in December 1944 the German military was just an empty shell of what it once had been after almost five bloody years of war.
Rundstedt's only option now was to make the Allies pay in blood for every mile as their armies advanced into the heart of the Fatherland. He based his defensive plans on the thesis that the American and British armies were not going to maintain an even pressure along the whole front due to the length of their supply line.
As the Western Allies experienced supply problems, both General George Patton and Bernard Montgomery fought over what fuel was available to mount their own spearhead into Germany.
Due to Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower's lack of decisive leadership, both Patton and Montgomery were forced to limit their offensive operations.
Instead of giving one of his best generals the men and supplies they needed to mount a single massive spearhead, Eisenhower had become too pre-occupied with politics unable to make the correct decisions on the battlefield.
Eisenhower's lack of judgement would give the German Army time to reinforce their positions along the West Wall in fall and winter 1944. It would cost the Allies the blood of over one hundred thousand soldiers.
Rundstedt saw no need to retreat and take up defensive positions behind the Rhine. His men were well dug along the Siegfried Line safe from air attack and artillery.
The Germans had built the Siegfried Line in 1938, it was an impressive array of defenses and fortifications ranging from immense blockhouses to fields of wooden "S-mines," called "Bouncing Betties" by Allied troops. When an unwary soldier stepped on one, it popped up to waist height and exploded, severely wounding the American or British soldier.
Rundstedt also decided to remain on the defensive since it required him to commit far fewer soldiers to the battle than the Allies. Moreover, since his soldiers were not obliged to expose themselves, they suffered fewer casualties than the enemy.
The Battle of Hurtgen Forest in September 1944 would justify Rundstedt's defensive strategy. The American army experienced one of the bloodiest battles in its history that fall along Germany's western border. The American First Army lost over 30,000 soldiers in the Battle for Hurtgen Forest, three times more casualties than the Allies experienced on Normandy.
When Salinger entered Hürtgen, he crossed into a nightmare world. The forest was more heavily fortified than anyone had guessed.
The Germans employed tree bursts, which exploded well above the soldiers’ heads, resulting in a shower of shrapnel and shredded tree limbs. Then there was the weather—either drenching wet or burning cold.
Nearly half of the 2,517 casualties suffered by the 12th Infantry in Hürtgen were due to the elements. Hürtgen is viewed by historians as among the greatest Allied debacles of the war. Salinger was forced to live out the nightmare with the rest of his 12th Infantry soldiers.
The sufferings that Salinger endured are essential to understanding his later work. They gave rise, for instance, to the nightmares suffered by Sergeant X in “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor.”
The battle left the American divisions in that fifty-four-mile sector of the Siegfried Line battered and bruised. It would later give Hitler the confidence to launch his own attack. Rundstedt knew Hitler's plan was overly ambitious. Even if Rundstedt's forces reached the Meuse River, his spearheads would be caught in the open to massive counterattacks from the air and ground by Allied forces.
While most German generals were deeply skeptical of the offensive's chances of success, younger officers and NCOs loyal to Hitler, especially those of the Waffen-SS, were desperate for it to succeed.
The Western Front 1944
The German West Wall or Siegfried Line
The V-2 Ballistic Missile : Hitler's Retaliatory or Reprisal Weapon
Hitler's V-1 and V-2 "Vengeance" Weapons"
Hitler Unleashes His Rockets To Strike Terror Among the Western Allies
Battle for Hurtgen Forest
A Ghost Army: The Sixth SS Panzer 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 counter-attack 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 put up much resistance.
Hitler began to move on 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 Monschau 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 following 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.
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 Volksgrenadiers (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 German Volksgrenadiers (Peoples Infantry)
The Americans Troops on Vacation in a Combat Zone
While the German armies were preparing for their attack into the Ardennes, the American soldiers stationed there enjoyed themselves immensely. Most of the soldiers on combat duty spent much of their time playing cards or building dugouts and log cabins for their winter quarters.
Many soldiers were also given three day passes to over a dozen rest areas in Luxembourg and Belgium to spend time relaxing or dating the local women. Almost all soldiers were housed so comfortably they compared their stay in the Ardennes as if they were still in England.
It appeared to the American soldier in the Ardennes a soldier's dream had come true. In what could be considered one of the worst intelligence blunders by the Allies in the Second World War near-complete surprise was achieved before the German attack. It was due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupations with Allied offensive planning, and poor aerial reconnaissance.
Venturing out American soldiers traveled through the quaint towns and fashionable resorts of the region as if they were on some sort of European vacation.
Actress Marlene Dietrich visited with solders and handed out autographs to Americans during her USO tour in the Ardennes.
Senior officers would continue to ignore all the reports by the locals that something was brewing on the German side of the front.
Sounds of moving tanks could be heard at night as German troops began to mass for the coming offensive. At precisely 5:30 a.m. on December 16,1944, an American sentry in the Ardennes would unknowingly report to his headquarters that pinpoints of light suddenly began to flicker all along the German line. As the German shells crashed down upon him, he realized that the lights were actually the muzzle flashes of hundreds of German guns.
Marlene Dietrich the Queen of the USO
A Wave of Terror Hits the Ardennes
Artillery shells screamed over American positions in the Ardennes shattering the early morning quiet, splintering trees and throwing wooden shrapnel into bodies of troops as they grabbed for their weapons and dived in their foxholes.
Platoon leaders and forward observers reached for their field phones many of which didn't work. Soon after the shelling ended the German soldiers switched on giant searchlights casting light across the battlefield.
Few American soldiers could make out what was going on, they had been informed the meager German forces holding the line in front of them couldn't have managed such a heavy bombardment.
In one sector American intelligence reported there was only a grand total of two horse-drawn German guns. One American officer would mention "They sure are working those horses to death."
At the far southern end of the Ardennes the veteran 4th Infantry Division, which had fought in the Hurtgen Forest losing half of its troops, was isolated, overrun, and pushed back by the overwhelming pressure from German attack.
Immediately to the north of the 4th Division, a battalion of the green 9th Armored Division only recently assigned to a three-mile sector of the front was awakened by a 1,000-round artillery barrage and found themselves facing almost an entire German division.
Under the cover of heavy fog German assault troops easily penetrated the American lines through the numerous ravines and gorges that cut across the forested and hilly terrain surrounding the battalion.
Farther north in the towns and villages along a scenic road Americans had named "Skyline Drive," infantrymen of the battered 28th Infantry Division, which had suffered over 6,000 casualties in the Hurtgen Forest was surrounded and cut off.
The main German spearhead bypassed the 28th Infantry Division and pushed toward a more important objective the vital crossroads town of Bastogne.
North of the 28th Division's sector, on a long, high ridge known as the Schnee Eifel, the 106th Division was overwhelmed by the intensity of the attack with many of its soldiers surrendered to German troops without a shot fired.
The men of the 106th were new recruits who had just arrived at the front just five days earlier now found themselves fighting for the lives against a determined enemy. Clerks, cooks, and the military police joined the battle, even the division's band rushed forward to guard the division headquarters at Saint-Vith.
In the Losheim Gap, a seven mile-mile pass on the northern edge of the Schnee Eifel, elite German SS tank units easily swept past scattered units of the 14th Cavalry Group.
There were signs of panic and confusion everywhere among the retreating Americans, vehicles and artillery pieces rushed to get out of the way of the advancing Germans, or where just left abandoned to the German troops.
The 99th Infantry Division another inexperienced outfit was receiving its bloody baptism of fire. The men of the 99th Division had known for some time that December 16th would be an exciting day, a group of entertainers for the USO, led by actress Marlene Dietrich, were scheduled to perform at the division headquarters the morning of the attack.
As soon as the entertainers arrived, they were quickly rushed out of the combat zone.
Near the division headquarters, infantrymen of the 99th repelled waves of German infantry, but were finally overrun by tanks, which crushed some of the Americans in their foxholes.
Nearly four hours after the German artillery had fired its first shell, General Omar Bradley, commander of the Twelfth Army Group, left his headquarters in the capital of Luxembourg bound for a meeting with the Allied Supreme Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, unaware that the Germans were approaching less than twenty miles away from his location.
The Battle of the Bulge
General Omar Bradley
Combat Group 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 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 Elsenborn 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 his tanks rolled into Lazerath, Belgium, he met with the leader of a 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.
SS Colonel Jochim Peiper
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 trucks, jeeps, and staff cars heading westward, fleeing the advancing Germans. At the same time, 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 to Malmedy road.
Troops from the 1st & 9th Divisions attacked from Aachen and elite paratroops from the 82cnd Airborne Division were trucked in to block his advance to the west.
To make matters worse American 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.
The German Third Wave
The trail of dead bodies Peiper's men left at Malmedy, Honsfeld, Bullingen, and Baugnez created a wave of terror among American troops in the Ardennes.
Still more terror and confusion were to be spread by Lieutenant Colonel Skorzeny's Panzer Brigade 150. Many of the brigade's 2,000 men were dressed in American uniforms so they could more easily infiltrate behind American lines.
Also, among the brigade's 70 tanks were some captured American Shermans. The brigade's first objective was to impersonate an American unit fleeing toward the rear, then rush ahead to the Meuse River during the first day of the offensive, seize the bridges intact and occupy them until arrival of two SS panzer divisions.
Because of traffic jams it became evident that their original mission was impossible, so the brigade was assigned to support Peiper's 1st SS Panzer Division in the northern sector of the offensive.
Regardless of setbacks some of Skorzeny's commando teams were succeeding beyond his wildest expectations.
Trained in the techniques of infiltration and sabotage, about 150 Germans who spoke English had set off in 30 captured American jeeps, wearing American uniforms and carrying false identification papers in an attempt to slip through American lines.
Skorzeny failed to realize that the Americans had so much transport that most often four men did not ride in one jeep, and when it became known that Skorzeny's men were on the prowl, any jeep with four men drew suspicion.
Although only nine commando teams managed to infiltrate Allied lines, they had an amazing psychological affect.
One four-man team switched road signs at a crossroads, sending an entire American regiment moving in the wrong direction. Another unit blocked off key roads with white tape signaling that a minefield was ahead.
And yet another unit told an American officer such a sensational story of German successes that he withdrew his unit from the town it was about to defend.
One team made it all the way to the River Meuse before they were captured. A second group of commandos, seized by American soldiers near Liege, told the most shocking yarn about the entire operation. They said that Skorzeny and a special commando team of fifty men had infiltrated through the American lines and were headed to Paris to attempt the assassination the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower.
They went even further and detailed the attempt, disclosing that Skorzeny and his commandos would meet at the famous Café de la Paix, once together they would strike the Supreme Allied Headquarters at Versailles.
The Americans would swallow the entire story imposing a curfew in Paris stopping soldiers and civilians in the streets.
Eisenhower would become a virtual prisoner in his own headquarters surrounded by armed guards, machine guns, and barbed wire. His security team even used a decoy in an attempt to capture Skorzeny.
Soon nervous military police from Paris to the Ardennes were stopping everyone, regardless of rank, asking questions supposedly only an American could answer. Many innocent American soldiers who didn't know the password would wind up being held captive until they could prove they were not a German commando in disguise.
Dwight David Eisenhower
Hasso von Manteuffel
Manteuffel's Plan of Attack
In the central sector of the Ardennes front which extended twenty-eight miles, Hitler selected Hasso von Manteuffel to lead the 5th Panzer Army in its thrust toward Antwerp.
Manteuffel was impressed by Hitler's magnetic personality but recognized Hitler's weakness concerning grand strategy and tactical awareness, even though, he thought the Fuehrer had a flair for originality and daring.
Manteuffel was an insightful leader whose success was a result of the tactics he conceived while serving in North Africa and Russia. His strategy involved dividing his forces into small self-contained but potent mobile fighting units, which penetrated the flanks of advancing enemy spearheads.
Once his forces were behind the advancing enemy formations they would counter-attack the enemy's undefended rear. His tactics had great success defeating Russian spearheads on the eastern front. He would again employ his strategy in the rugged Ardennes, where his spearheads quickly penetrated deep behind the American lines as they rushed toward Bastogne.
At the same time, Dietrich, who chose to advance his Sixth SS Panzer Army on a broad front quickly bogged down and failed to assist Manteuffel's rapidly advancing spearheads leaving his troops exposed to counterattack.
Manteuffel would argue that airborne troops could have been very useful in the Ardennes to help secure footholds at important crossroads and bridges. He believed that Hitler's great reluctance to use more parachute troops in the battle was a grave mistake.
Manteuffel at least convinced Hitler to allow him to attack during nighttime hours to more easily pass-through American lines undetected. To confuse the enemy and to open the way for his advancing troops, Manteuffel would use searchlights to create an eerie artificial twilight.
Attacking at night would also allow German tanks additional daylight hours to exploit their breakthroughs with more speed and force.
Manteuffel had also decided he would not begin his offensive with an opening artillery bombardment, to not alert the enemy, enabling his advance troops a better chance to slip through American lines unnoticed.
The Seige of Bastogne
Pockets of Resistance in the German Rear
Manteuffel's skillful planning, together with crisp execution by most of his divisions, quickly got his 5th Panzer Army moving forward to the River Meuse.
His small forward units penetrated American frontline positions before their artillery had a chance open fire on his troops. In some critical areas he sent in special storm battalions, composed of his finest officers and men in each division to bypass enemy positions, and penetrate deep into rear areas before the Americans had an opportunity to coordinate an effective defense.
But Manteuffel would learn to his chagrin that his breakthroughs had not settled anything.
While his vanguards pressed the attack forward, many small bypassed American units formed stubborn pockets of resistance in what now had become the German rear.
To make matters worse American generals began to send fresh troops swiftly into the battle. Which included the elite 101st Airborne Division who had taken up the defense at Bastogne.
The American paratroopers showed no fear and were comfortable fighting behind German lines.
Together with Combat Command teams from both the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions they began setting up a wagon wheel defense around Bastogne and were putting up a particularly resolute defense.
All seven main roads in the densely wooded Ardennes highlands converged on Bastogne. It was located just a few miles from the border with Luxembourg, control of the crossroads was vital to speeding up his attack. Manteuffel would throw more than nine divisions at the American defenses surrounding Bastogne, but they refused to surrender.